The upset election victory by a center-left party in Alberta—the heart of Canada's oil country—may also have eliminated one of the most public faces in the lobbying effort promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Former Alberta premiers Alison Redford and Jim Prentice were frequent visitors to Washington to promote the pipeline, and touted it as a necessary project for promoting Canada's oil-sands development. Prentice, who served just eight months, visited D.C. in February, speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meeting with government officials, and conducting a round of press meetings on the pipeline. Redford (who resigned in March 2014) was no stranger to D.C. In a 2013 visit, she met with Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who both backed the pipeline on the Hill.
But New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley, likely the next premier, isn't going to be lobbying lawmakers in D.C.
Notley has said the project has been too caught up in American domestic politics and that she doesn't plan on promoting it. In an April interview with the Calgary Herald, Notley said there was "no realistic objective" to visiting Washington to discuss the pipeline, and that she'd instead focus on shipping refined crude rather than the bitumen that would be shipped on the pipeline.
There are still plenty of Canadian politicians who could offer domestic support for the pipeline—Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it a topic of discussion with President Obama and others in visits, and Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., appeared with Senate sponsors of a Keystone approval bill this year and has pushed for Congress to keep promoting the pipeline despite Obama's veto of that bill.
But the loss of such an ardent booster of Keystone XL in the heart of Canada's oil patch could mark another blow to the industry coalition backing the project. The country's energy sector has already expressed some reticence about NDP's ascension, and investors showed uncertainty on the markets Wednesday, with oil-sands companies taking an early hit.
The NDP has taken a more critical stance on the oil industry, which has strong ties to the conservatives. On the trail, Notley had suggested that she would review royalty rates paid by oil and gas companies once the drop in oil prices had settled. The party's platform says it will work to reduce the climate impact of oil development, looking at both the greenhouse-gas emissions from extraction and the impact of drilling waste.
Notley has also said she would not promote the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to a planned Pacific export terminal in British Columbia, but that she did support other export lines like the Trans Mountain and Energy East projects.
The State Department is currently reviewing the Keystone XL permit, but Obama has said he won't approve the project if it is shown to have a negative effect on climate change. Opponents have said that the pipeline will exacerbate development of the dirty tar sands. It's become an environmental and political flash point in the U.S., where congressional supporters have pushed legislation forcing approval of the pipeline, a bill Obama vetoed.
In a statement, TransCanada, the company that would build the pipeline, said it looked forward to working with Notley and the NDP government but that it would "remain committed to Keystone XL as it will increase U.S. energy security by supplying American refineries with both U.S. Bakken crude and Canadian oil, pushing out oil from Venezuela and the Middle East."
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