Conway will visit Fort McMurray, the town in the middle of the tar sands region, and then attend a Jan. 12 private fundraising dinner for the Alberta Prosperity Fund. The group called it “a call to action for Alberta industry whose competitiveness and market access have been restricted by excessive regulation and public protests.”
The visit would make a powerful symbolic statement about where a Trump presidency might come down on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama rejected but which would, if revived, link the oil sands region in Alberta to advanced refineries on the Texas gulf coast.
Moreover, it is a slap at environmentalists, who made the tar sands, also known as oil sands, a target for activism because extracting crude oil from the sands is energy intensive and thus worse from a greenhouse gas perspective than tapping conventional oil production.
The Alberta Prospect Fund said the visit “should send a strong signal to Alberta on the importance of this province to the United States.”
Major U.S. and Canadian companies dominate production in the oil sands, though the recent fall in oil prices makes expanding operations there unattractive. Roughly half the oil sands are tapped using the injection of steam in wells and about half are tapped through unsightly strip mining in the midst of the province’s boreal forests.
Separately, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3, while it rejected, as expected, a Northern Gateway proposal which would have cut through sensitive forest areas. Trudeau also announced that the government would introduce a moratorium on crude oil tankers along British Columbia’s North Coast; residents worry about tanker leaks or potential accidents.
The $6.8-billion Trans Mountain project from Edmonton, Alberta to an export terminal near Vancouver, British Columbia will nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline to 890,000 barrels a day. The new Enbridge line will connect with existing lines in Wisconsin. Both could carry crude from the oil sands region.
Much of the crude oil from the region currently travels to market by railroad car, a more expensive option. Both of the new lines would ease demand for the Keystone XL pipeline, but they could also reduce transit costs and encourage further development.
Environmentalists sharply criticized Trudeau’s decision. Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s “beyond dirty fuels” campaign, called the approvals “inexplicable.” She said “the climate crisis leaves no room for additional tar sands pipelines.”
Canada is one of the largest trading partners of the United States, largely because of the large amounts of crude oil and natural gas Canada exports to the United States. The Keystone XL pipeline project was proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada. The company split the project in two, completing the southern half even though Obama rejected the northern half seven years after TransCanada’s initial application. TransCanada has filed a trade case saying Obama acted improperly and after Trump’s election the company said it would still like to pursue the project.