Canada, U.S. want to wean Ukraine off Russian energy

As energy files continue to dog the Harper government's relationship with the U.S., Barack Obama's Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, signs a memorandum of understanding with Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford Thursday on 11 areas of bilateral energy co-operation.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sign bilateral deal

Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy (left) and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral energy co-operation during their talks in Ottawa Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As energy files continue to dog the Harper government's relationship with the U.S., the crisis in Ukraine has provided officials on both sides with a new area of common concern.

Barack Obama's Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, was in Ottawa for talks Thursday and signed a memorandum of understanding with Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford on 11 areas of bilateral energy co-operation.

At a joint news conference, both were asked whether Ukraine could soon import oil and gas from North America to help reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

"We're taking steps to diversify our markets," Rickford said, reiterating the Harper government's strategy of trying to find new export opportunities in response to a declining demand in the U.S. for Canadian oil as it builds its own indigenous supplies.

"We're looking for our rightful place in a fair global pricing of oil," Rickford said. "I think that's obvious and plain and clear."

When Moniz was asked whether his department had been asked to examine the viability of oil exports from Texas to Europe, all he would say is that "we provide technical assistance when we can to our administration colleagues."

In the short term, the U.S. does not have a surplus of domestic oil available to export to Ukraine. But, he hinted, that could change. 

"Oil as you all know is a global market," Moniz said. "The fact is, we are and will remain for some years a major importer of oil. So you can do the pluses and minuses on that as you wish. We are a major importer of oil."

Pipelines, terminals needed for exports

In order to ship a large volume of North American oil to Europe or eventually Ukrainian markets, something like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would need to be built. The fate of the heavily promoted Keystone pipeline is tied up in a Nebraska court and no final approval is expected from the White House anytime soon

Neither country currently has a working terminal to export liquefied natural gas (LNG).  The U.S. should have a facility within two years and Canada should have its own by 2018.

When G7 energy ministers met earlier this year, both countries agreed they wanted to begin supporting Ukraine's transition to a more independent energy strategy — infrastructure all sides acknowledge will take years to build.

Experts sent to Ukraine

Geological survey teams from both countries have gone on a reconnaissance mission to Ukraine to evaluate the access to, and quality of, oil and gas geological data. 

North American energy experts have also been working to identify Ukraine's critical energy needs and the state of energy efficiency and conservation efforts in the country.

In the shorter term Moniz said that, with winter fast approaching, Ukrainians "can't make major changes in a few months" but that there may be ways Europe can help with fuel switching, increased production or other conservation and prioritization measures to make sure humanitarian crises are averted.

"Security is a collective responsibility," the U.S. secretary said. "We should also talk about Ukraine's neighbours getting a more diversified supply." 

Energy efficiency measures and renewable energy should be part of the solution, he said. "It's not just about gas or oil or any individual country."

During a visit to Ottawa yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told CBC News that Canada could play an important role in assisting with Ukraine's goal of energy independence from Russia.

Poroshenko moved on to Washington Thursday looking for additional support from the Americans on several fronts. 

Bilateral deal signed

The Canadian and American governments have been collaborating on research and promotion for clean energy technologies, such as wind power.

Moniz said Thursday that both countries want to work on new ways to transport renewable energy over longer distances or perhaps across borders.

Moniz said progress was underway on new transborder electricity lines.

The United Nations is hosting a climate change summit next Tuesday that will bring heads of state and senior officials from more than 125 countries, including Obama, to New York. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, will not attend.

On Thursday, more than 340 institutional investors representing $24 trillion in assets called on the summit to set carbon-pricing policies that encourage private sector investment in cleaner technologies.