SAINT JOHN, N.B. - Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver visited Canada's largest oil refinery Tuesday in a bid to build support behind a proposal to ship Alberta crude to Eastern Canada.
Oliver was in the New Brunswick port city of Saint John, where he toured the Irving Oil refinery and later touted the economic benefits the development could bring to Atlantic Canada at a business luncheon.
He said as the United States increases its own oil and gas production, it's vital for Canada to diversify its oil export markets — and the west-to-east pipeline would help satisfy that goal.
"If we do not take heed of warnings and diversify our markets for energy by building infrastructure like pipelines, then our resources will be stranded and we will lose jobs and businesses in Canada," Oliver told the Saint John Board of Trade.
"We are losing some $50 million every single day, $18 billion to $19 billion every year because our resources are landlocked," he said.
"So we have to connect our pipeline infrastructure to our ports on the East and West coasts."
Irving Oil president Mike Ashar said his company wants to buy more oil from Alberta and would like to see the pipeline project become a reality. Some oil from western Canada is shipped to the Saint John refinery, but without a pipeline, it has to be delivered by rail.
But Ashar said the company isn't interested in investing in the development of the pipeline.
"We are in the oil refining business, not the pipeline construction business, but we recognize as a large customer and close to a port, we could be part of a solution," he said.
"So we are willing to speak with shippers and pipeline companies to see whether Irving Oil can make this project be more successful."
New Brunswick Premier David Alward is also eager to see the idea come to fruition, and on Tuesday reiterated his support.
"A coast-to-coast pipeline is as important to Canada's economic future as a national railway was in our past," he said.
But some environmental groups have already mounted a campaign against shipping oil eastward. That came after Enbridge Inc. applied to the National Energy Board to reverse the flow of oil so that it would move from Ontario to Quebec.
Still, there has been growing support among some premiers to extend that flow further east.
Last month, Premier Alison Redford of Alberta and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois agreed to set up working groups to examine the economic benefits and environmental risks of pumping Albertan crude through Quebec.
The idea has also received the backing of the premiers of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. And this past weekend, former premier Frank McKenna wrote an opinion piece for newspapers in New Brunswick also expressing his support.
The boosterism is somewhat at odds with the clash over the Northern Gateway project being proposed for Alberta and British Columbia, where the premiers in those provinces have sparred over concerns involving the environment and economic benefits.