The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Canada Beckons

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 5, 2011

Ron Liepert, energy minister of Canada's energy-rich Alberta province, sounded almost wistful talking about his country's energy partnership with the United States - which Liepert unhesitatingly said is the key to economic prosperity for both countries.

The wistfulness enters in when Liepert concedes that safe, abundant oil from Alberta's oil sands region and the Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver it - providing a powerful stimulus to the struggling U.S. economy - face determined opposition in America. It makes no sense to him that the U.S. might shun oil from a trusted ally. "We are so intertwined," he said.

Liepert spent time with our group of energy reporters and bloggers in Fort McMurray, the hub of Alberta's oil sands region. He warned that oil sands oil will have little trouble finding a buyer if the United States takes a pass. He noted China is poised for action, investing $15 billion in the province over the past 18 months. "There is a long-term plan to get oil to the East," he said.

Currently, the administration is weighing approval of the Keystone XL, a $7 billion, 1,700-mile project that would play an important role in the full development of Canada's oil sands. This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Canada's foreign minister a decision would be made by the end of the year.

The question is why approval hasn't been given already. According to a recent study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, full utilization of the oil sands (facilitated by the Keystone XL) would support 600,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035, more than $775 billion in economic growth from 2010 to 2035 and deliver up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day to the U.S.

Indeed, companies are making oil sands investments. ConocoPhillips and Canadian partner Total are producing 23,000 barrels of oil a day from their Surmont facility, about an hour south of Fort McMurray. COP plans to expand production to 136,000 barrels a day by 2015. Keystone XL would link this production with U.S. refining as well.

That is, if the pipeline is approved and built. By September, TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, will have waited three years for a decision from Washington. The company's Robert Jones told our group that approval would create 10,000 U.S. jobs "instantly."

Back to Liepert's point: The U.S. needs Canada's oil, and it needs the jobs that would be created if the oil sands region is fully developed and linked to U.S. refiners. Yet the administration acts like job creation is some kind of mythical quest, as though "shovel ready" really was nothing more than a slogan.

Shovel ready? Jobs? Abundant, secure energy? Canada beckons - and wonders what's taking its neighbor so long to act.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.