09/13/2011 04:11 EDT | Updated 11/13/2011 05:12 EST

Canada looks to diversify oil export markets

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says a big priority for his government is finding new places to sell Canadian oil other than the U.S.

Oliver is in California to attend the APEC Transportation and Energy conference, but he told reporters on a conference call that at the top of his agenda is talking about new markets.

"We export 97 per cent of our energy to the U.S. and we would like to diversify that," he said.

Oliver and other Canadian federal ministers have been urging the U.S. government to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude from the Alberta oilsands south to the Texas Gulf Coast for refining. The massive project has faced opposition from some U.S. states and environmentalists.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce a decision on Keystone XL soon.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government would very much like to see that pipeline go ahead, Oliver is also looking east to Japan and other Asian countries for other markets as oilsands production doubles by 2015.

That means yet another pipeline and more controversy. This time in Canada.

Enbridge is proposing to build the huge Northern Gateway Pipeline to carry oilsands crude from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., and then ship the petroleum by tanker to Asia.

But the route would cross rough mountainous terrain and sensitive wildlife habitat. Aboriginal communities along the route have vowed to block pipeline construction and oil tanker traffic off the coast of B.C.

Oliver said the project is now being reviewed.

"We respect the regulatory process," said Oliver, "and without talking about that project specifically, the overarching need to diversify energy customers is an important issue for this government."

The National Energy Board will start public hearings into the Northern Gateway project in January 2012.