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Oil pipeline reviews to see 'transition' to restore confidence: minister

Reviews of new oil pipeline projects will go through a “transition phase” while public confidence in the process is restored, says Canada’s new minister of natural resources.

But James Carr says he can’t provide details of how any reforms might affect reviews of the Energy East and Trans Mountain projects, two proposals now before the National Energy Board that would bring Alberta energy to the coasts.

“We know it’s important. We’re on it. We’re working on it now,” the Winnipeg MP told The Canadian Press on Friday.

“We understand there are questions about the review. We understand there has to be certainty. We understand there will be a transition phase.

“We also know we have to restore public confidence in the regulatory environment in this country and that’s what we intend to do.”

After U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL project, TransCanada’s (TSX:TRP) Energy East and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain proposals are considered the best remaining hopes of getting bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to overseas markets.

In a mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Carr is told to work with other ministers to restore “robust” environmental oversight in areas of federal jurisdiction. Asked if that meant climate change would be a consideration in such reviews, Carr suggested it would.

“Sensibilities to these issues are important in any review of major projects. That’s the way it should be and that’s the way we intend it will be.

“Natural resource development is linked to environmental sustainability. That will be clear. Canadians have to have confidence in the process, which has to include indigenous people.”

Carr said he couldn’t put a timeline on when any changes will be ready.

He believes it’s possible for Canada’s oil and gas industry to expand while the country still meets greenhouse gas reduction targets. But it will take co-operation from all the provinces as well as industry, he suggested.

Trudeau has asked Carr to begin talks with his provincial counterparts on a national energy strategy. Carr added he’s also already spoken with his U.S. and Mexican colleagues on a North American clean-energy strategy.

Carr did say the makeup of the National Energy Board, which reviews major pipelines, should broadly reflect Canadian diversity. Aboriginal voices must also be heard, he said.

Peter Watson, chairman and CEO of the board, said some reform has already taken place since he started in his role in mid-2014.

Watson says he’s had a get-to-know-you chat with Carr, but has not delved into specifics on what the future holds.

Canadians understand that economic and environmental questions can’t be considered in isolation from each other, Carr said.

“You can’t develop the economy without being conscious of its impact on the environment, and Canadians know that creating jobs and creating clean jobs are a major priority.

“I don’t see any contradictions there. It’s … a function of a new global reality. We can’t ignore that reality.

“Rather than being fearful of it, we have to embrace it with the resources we have as a nation, which are plentiful.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960