On his first foreign trip as Alberta premier, Ed Stelmach told U.S. business leaders not to believe the "myth" that oilsands production takes too much of a toll on the environment.
Stelmach told an energy forum in Washington, D.C., that attempts to slow oilsands development don't make sense.
"Even worse, it could serve to jeopardize this country's energy security at a time when Asian markets are clamouring for oil," he told the crowd Wednesday afternoon.
"It isn't threatening but I'm just saying that the demand for oil is increasing and it will continue to increase," he told reporters later.
"I believe statistics are something like 1,000 barrels a second of conventional oil, 3,000 a second of total energy so it's a significant demand. If you look at industry growth in China and India, you're going to see demand increase. There's no doubt about it."
Legislation passed by the United States last month forbids any U.S. federal agencies from buying vehicle fuel that comes from non-conventional sources, unless the life cycle of its greenhouse gas emissions is the same or less than conventional oil.
Environmentalists have targeted Alberta's oilsands industry because they say the process of refining bitumen creates three times as many greenhouse gases as conventional oil production methods.
Most of the oil in the oilsands is trapped in a mixture of sand, water and clay, making it difficult and expensive to extract.
Demonstrators greet premier
Protesters, some dressed as polar bears, greeted Stelmach outside the Canadian embassy in Washington, which also houses the office of Gary Mar, Alberta's trade ambassador to the U.S.
"We really think there should be a moratorium placed on tarsands development and Ed Stelmach should go back to Alberta," said Stephen Kretzmann of Oil Change International.
The premier's three-day trip will focus on assuring Americans that his province is a stable and secure source of oil for U.S. consumers.
Before leaving for Washington, Stelmach defended his province's oil supply, saying cleaner oil imported from the Middle East has to travel greater distances, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Sending Stelmach, his wife, the ministers of agriculture and sustainable resources and three staff members to Washington will cost about $54,000, including a reception hosted by the province, said the premier's office.
An energy expert with the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy said that while attitudes are evolving south of the border, Canadian companies are holding off making changes.
"We may find ourselves up here in the unfortunate position of being behind corporations in other parts of the world that make the change and invest in the capital ahead of the game and out-compete us in the short term," said Michael Moore.
Moore used to work as a senior economist for an energy lab in California, the birthplace of the movement toward cleaner fuel.
Melanie Nakagawa, a representative with the U.S.-based lobby group Natural Resource Defence Council, has spent the last two years working on an oilsands portfolio. Last week, the council sent letters to 15 airlines asking them to stop relying on the oilsands for fuel.
"This isn't just looking at what happens at your gas tank or in your car, but what happens at the very moment of the extraction of this fuel," she said.
Bob Page, who has been working on environmental and energy issues in Alberta for half a dozen years, said the province is ready to answer such questions.
"This is a serious new marketing problem for oilsands products which will have to be addressed by the Canadians because I see it as a rising movement in the U.S.," said Page.