The minister of natural resources said at a Calgary conference Wednesday that Canadians are smart enough to come to their own conclusion about the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline project despite recent celebrity criticism.  

Joe Oliver was the keynote speaker at the Google's ThinkEnergy! Summit in Calgary. His speech comes on the heels of actor Robert Redford's joining Canadian musician Neil Young in speaking out against the oilsands.

"I don't think there's huge credibility when there seems to be an inability to distinguish between fact and fiction," said Oliver. "We feel these are really critical issues and it's important to have a respectful discussion based on the facts and science, and I think the Canadian public can distinguish between facts and exaggerated rhetoric."

The Keystone XL pipeline is awaiting regulatory approval by U.S. President Barack Obama and has been marred in controversy over the past several years.

Celebrities and members of the Obama administration have expressed concern over the environmental impacts of the pipeline, and a decision on the pipeline has been tentatively delayed until 2014.

Calgary-based TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline proposal, originally submitted the project for approval in Sept. 2008.

"We expected to be in service in 2010, so three years ago," said Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines. "That kind of gives you an idea of the delays this project has experienced."

East-west pipelines face red tape

Two other pipeline routes are being proposed to export Canadian oil and gas to international markets.

The Northern Gateway pipeline would go from Alberta to the West Coast and the Energy East pipeline would run to New Brunswick.

Northern Gateway has so far been caught in negotiations with B.C.'s First Nations and the provincial government, which officially voted to oppose it in May.

The Energy East pipeline would require converting hundreds of kilometres of pipeline before oil could be transported and is facing opposition in Ontario.

Both are facing criticism from Canadian environmentalists, who say the pipeline companies are not doing enough to reduce the risk of potential spills or mitigate greenhouse gases.

The government has maintained throughout the approval processes that a pipeline is needed to bring Alberta oil to the broader market.

"In the not so long term, our only customer — the U.S. — will be needing our resources less because it has found vast amounts of its own shale gas and oil," said Oliver. "Fortunately, there is a huge and growing demand in the Asia pacific region but we must build pipelines to bring our resources to tide water to access that market."

Oliver says no pipeline project will go ahead unless it is proven safe for the environment.