U.S. urges 'fivefold expansion' in Alberta oilsands production

The U.S. wants Canada to dramatically expand its oil exports from the Alberta oilsands, a move that could have major implications on the environment.

The U.S. wants Canada to dramatically expand its oil exports from the Alberta oilsands, a move that could have major implications on the environment.

U.S.and Canadian oil executives and government officials met for atwo-dayoil summit in Houston in January 2006 andmade plans fora "fivefold expansion" in oilsands production in a relatively "short time span," according to minutes of the meeting obtained by the CBC's French-language network, Radio-Canada.

The meetingwas organized by Natural Resources Canada and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Canada is already the top exporter of oil to the American market, exporting the equivalent of one million barrels a day — the exact amount that the oilsands industry in Alberta currently produces.

A fivefold increase would meanthe export of five million barrels a day, which would supply a quarter of current American consumption and add up to almost half of all U.S. imports.

"We need to look at additional pipelines from Canada to the U.S. as a new source of supplier, a growing source of supply," said Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute.

But the current extraction ofoil from the tarsands results in the spewing of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere: it's already the biggest source of new greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

The news of the call for the massive boost in oil production comesas Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to make the environment one of his top priorities, vowing thatCanadians deserve more action on climate change. Polls show the environment is the number one concern of Canadians.

Yet, according to the minutes of the Houston meeting, to multiplyits output byfive and to do itquickly, Canada would have to "streamline" its environmental regulations for new energy projects.

No plans to 'streamline' environmental assessments: PMO

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said the federal Tories will not "streamline"environmental assessments to speed up oilsands development.

"Canada's natural resources will be developed but that will not be done at the expense of the environment,"Dmitri Soudas told the Canadian Press.

Canada's main oil lobby group saidthere is no pledge to increase production five-fold for the Americans.

"There is no promise," said Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers."It's up to the market whether this thing goes fast or slow."

In hisstate of the union address in 2006, U.S. President George W. Bushset out a goal to drastically reduce oil imports from the Middle East and make American dependence on Middle Eastern oil "a thing of the past."

Paul Michael Weaby, a Washington insider and an expert on the geo-strategic aspect of the oil industry, said Bush is counting on Canada to help wean the United Statesoff Middle Eastern oil— a goalnow defined as a national security objective.

"He wanted to have a reduction of 1.5 million barrels a day by 2015 from the Middle East.Although he did not mention Canada, that is in fact where the replacement supply will come from."