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Ottawa and Lincoln, Neb.— A global battle over the reputation of Alberta’s oil sands is coming to a head. Ottawa is deploying heavy diplomatic guns, on both sides of the Atlantic, to the debate over whether it will be treated as an ethical source for a world that needs oil, or a polluting pariah.
Stephen Harper’s chummy relationship with British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun to yield a friendlier view toward the oil sands, a potential influence in the fight over European standards that could label Alberta oil dirty.
In North America, meanwhile, public protests and diplomatic lobbying are intensifying over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands bitumen deeper into the United States.
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, travelled Monday to meet the governor of Nebraska, where pipeline opponents are geared up for public meetings on Tuesday. In Ottawa, hundreds of activists converged on Parliament Hill for protests organized by environmentalists, unions and native leaders – before dozens climbed a barrier fence and were removed by police for trespassing.
While tactics shift, the debate has crystallized: Environmentalists argue that Alberta’s oil sands require massive, high-emissions energy just to extract a resource that only heightens dependency on increasingly “dirty” oil, rather than greener fuels. The industry, and the Harper government, insist oil will be needed for decades to come and the oil sands are preferable as a source to “cleaner” crude oil from undemocratic, conflict-prone nations.
In Britain, where the former Labour government and its envoys in Ottawa issued stark warnings about the impact of oil-sands development on climate change, Mr. Cameron’s Conservative government now argues the oil sands should not be singled out as a dirty source in a world that will need oil, and increasingly heavy crudes, for the foreseeable future.
The shift could have an impact on an important symbolic battle over the oil sands across the Atlantic, where the European Union is hammering out fuel standards that could be as a precedent for other jurisdictions.
In an interview following Mr. Cameron’s visit to Ottawa last week, where he signalled close alignment with Mr. Harper, British High Commissioner to Ottawa Andrew Pocock said his country wants to encourage responsible development and mitigation of emissions, but knows the oil will be extracted.
“You have … a huge sovereign resource, the second or third-largest in the world, on the border of the largest consumer of oil on the planet. That resource is going to be exploited. Name me a country on earth that wouldn’t do it,” he said.
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