Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver talks oil sands
'We're incredibly fortunate to have these reserves'
Joe Oliver has his work cut out for him. Canada’s new minister of natural resources is a former investment banker with Merrill Lynch. The Toronto-area MP won his first seat in Parliament amid the blue tide that gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper a majority government. Oliver received a warm reception at a summer unveiling of Shell Canada’s Athabasca oil sands expansion.
Photograph by Joey Podlubny
Alberta Oil: How big of a priority is it for this government to open an outlet to Asia-Pacific markets?
Joe Oliver: It’s a big priority. We understand that the country has been dependent to a very significant extent on exports to the United States. They represent 97 per cent of our exports. There’s a great hunger in Asia for our resources. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the resource industry to be able to export and it’ll diversify our sources. It’s good for Alberta, it’s good for Canada and we’re fully supportive of that effort.
AO: Would the government expedite Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway project?
JO: We’re trying to. But you know, at the end of the day, we respect the regulatory process. That particular project has gone to a joint review, and it’s going to be reporting to my colleague, Peter Kent, the minister of the environment. At that point we’ll be able to assess what the report is and act accordingly, but we hope it will be handled as expeditiously as possible.
AO: What about David Suzuki and others urging Americans to invoke civil disobedience to block oil sands exports?
JO: I don’t agree with what he’s suggesting. Quite frankly, there’s a lot of misinformation and mythology out there about the oil sands. The government of Canada understands – as almost all Albertans understand – how incredibly important the oil sands are. It represents 97 per cent of our oil reserves, which are at least the third-largest in the world, maybe more. The oil sands could represent over $2 trillion to [our] GDP in the next 25 years.
AO: How will your government address the sector’s environmental issues?
JO: It’s extremely important. We’re incredibly fortunate to have these reserves. Of course, we’ve got to handle it in an environmentally responsible way. The key word is balance. I’m all for that. In my capacity I want to advocate for the competitiveness of the industry. It’s important also to talk about science and economics and not ideology and theology. We have to understand just what the facts are about greenhouse gas emissions and then do what we’re doing in Alberta and in Canada to develop the technologies to reduce the impact as much as we can.
AO: Where does carbon capture and storage fit into that strategy?
JO: We’re very supportive because we put $120 million into it. We think carbon capture and storage is an innovative tool to lessen the greenhouse gas emissions. We know in this case it may reduce it by 40 per cent. We think overall the reduction may represent 14 to 19 per cent. We see this as one of the innovative technological ways of dealing with the environmental issues.