OTTAWA - The Conservative government is spending $40 million this year to advertise Canada's natural resource sector — principally oil and gas — at home and abroad.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver revealed the figure Wednesday as his department seeks another $12.9 million to augment an international campaign designed to portray Canada as a stable and environmentally responsible source of energy.

That will bring NRCan's 2013-14 ad budget to about $40 million — $24 million for advertising abroad and $16.5 million for the domestic market.

"The government has a responsibility to provide Canadians with facts to assist them in making informed decisions," Oliver, under opposition questioning, told a Commons committee.

"This engagement and outreach campaign will raise awareness in key international markets that Canada is an environmentally responsible and reliable supplier of natural resources."

The entire federal government advertising budget last year was about $65 million, according to preliminary estimates, with $9 million allotted for Natural Resources.

In 2010-11, NRCan spent just $237,000 on advertising, according to the government figures.

Outside the committee room, Oliver justified the spending by linking it directly to winning over American public opinion in order to get approval of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The $5.4-billion project to carry Alberta bitumen to the Gulf Coast has become a lightning rod for environmental activists as it awaits a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama.

"Let's understand what is at stake here," Oliver said. "When we're looking at Keystone, for example, we're talking about tens of thousands of jobs."

Asked to justify ad spending for one industrial sector that's swallowing up almost two thirds of last year's total government ad budget, Oliver was emphatic: "You justify it by what it's going to achieve and there are billions, tens of billions of dollars, in play."

Peter Julian, the NDP natural resources critic who teased out the ad spending at the committee, isn't buying the government rationale.

"I don't see how the Harper government can justify spending tens of millions of taxpayers' money to do something that the private sector could choose to do," Julian said after the hearing.

The New Democrat said the ads won't work because the Conservatives, through their policy choices, have "killed the possibility of social licence" — getting public buy-in, essentially — for major resource projects.

He said that by slashing environmental assessments and limiting "meaningful public consultation" on pipeline proposals, the government has sparked a public backlash.

The backlash, Julian asserted, is "worldwide. Canada has a black eye. There's no doubt."

He cited the Obama administration, which has openly urged Canada to up its environmental game, and the European Union, which is targeting higher emissions from oilsands production.

Rather than millions on ads, said Julian, "the way the Harper government can start to gain back the social licence is by starting to make better decisions on the environment, on the economy and on the whole process of approving these new projects."

To that end, the government is making an effort to establish a baseline of research on cutting edge oilsands technology.

Natural Resources has asked a panel of experts to help catalogue and chart a way forward for technologies that can help reduce the environmental footprint of oilsands development.

Oliver has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to turn its gaze on new and emerging technologies for extracting bitumen from Alberta's oilsands.

A 13-member panel will study what's currently working and has been asked to identify economic and regulatory hurdles that slow the spread of the most promising technologies.

"There's a lot of rhetoric, there's a lot of exaggeration," Oliver said of the study.

"People can come to different conclusions based on the facts, but let's start all together. We should all start with the facts."

The council was created in 2005 with a 10-year, $30-million government grant and is designed to provide peer-reviewed, science-based assessments to help inform public policy.

Canada is not on track to reach its international pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020, but the Conservative government has frequently held out hope that technological breakthroughs will alter that trajectory.

A spokeswoman for the academy, a not-for-profit corporation, says expert panels typically take between 18 and 24 months to report and do not make policy recommendations — but instead provide a base of solid evidence to use in the policy mix.

The panel is to be co-chaired by Eric Newell, the former CEO of Syncrude Canada, and by the head of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly spelled the first name of IISD president Scott Vaughan.

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  • Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.

  • Mountains of sulphur, a waste byproduct of mining, stand at a Syncrude Canada Ltd. mining site near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

  • The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.

  • Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:

  • An aerial view of a tailings pond at the Suncor oil sands mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta in 2009.

  • Mining trucks carry loads of oil laden sand at the Albian Sands oils sands project in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Friday, August 5, 2005

  • A large oil refinery along the Athabasca River in Alberta's Oilsands. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oil sands mining operation near Fort McMurray in 2013.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • Oil is seen at the ground's surface near Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Albian Sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

  • In this Aug. 5, 2005 file photo, the Syncrude upgrader spreads out towards the horizon at the company's oil sands project in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Mildred Lake upgrader, on the grounds of The Syncrude Project in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada is pictured from the air Monday, March 6, 2006.

  • This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude extraction facility in the northern Alberta oil sand fields is reflected in the pool of water being recycled for re-use.

  • A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • Aerial view of a lake and forests in the vicinity of oil sands extraction facilities near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 23, 2009.

  • Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Next: Alberta Oil Spills

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

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  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Company officials said the leak - at what it calls its Primrose operation - was caused by faulty machinery at one of the wells, affected an area of approximately 13.5 hectares and released as much as 3,200 litres of bitumen each day.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.

  • CFB Cold Lake

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  • <em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>

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  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Debris pushes up against a boom as it stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A photographer snaps a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A worker slows traffic while a boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A no swimming sign along the banks of the Gleniffer reservoir while a boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the lake near Innisfail, Alta., Friday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Tracks pass through oil on the banks of the Gleniffer reservoir after a pipeline leak near Sundre, Alta., on Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Enbrige's Athabasca pipeline

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  • Lake Wabamun

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  • Lake Wabamun

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  • Lake Wabamun

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  • Lake Wabamun

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