WINNIPEG - Rocker Neil Young took aim at the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Thursday on his concert tour condemning the Alberta oilsands, while energy executives, politicians and even a fellow musician shot back that he is irresponsible and uninformed.

Young told a news conference ahead of his Winnipeg concert that the TransCanada pipeline, which would carry oilsands bitumen from Alberta to Texas refineries, makes no sense since the oil would be sent to China — a country he called one of the dirtiest on Earth.

"People don't understand this oil is not for Canada," Young said. "A couple of months ago, Beijing had 30 times the World Health Organization's approved level of pollutants and dangerous substances in the air — 30 times that — and we're sending them oil.

"I don't feel really good about that."

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) quickly replied that the pipeline would be a supply line for U.S. refineries and not an export pipeline. Company spokesman Shawn Howard said the vast majority of exported oilsands oil is used in gasoline, diesel fuel and other North American products.

"It's unfortunate that people like Mr. Young want to mislead people about where Canadian oil goes and the benefits it creates," he said in an emailed statement.

"It has helped him create records and CDs, allows his tour buses to run, airplanes to fly, (allows) the manufacturing of high-tech equipment and guitar picks needed to entertain his audiences."

Young is on a four-city Canadian tour to support the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation that lives downstream from the oilsands. The band has filed a lawsuit to try to protect its traditional territory from further industrialization.

Since he kicked off the tour in Toronto on Sunday, the iconic musician has traded shots with the Prime Minister's Office and oil executives who say Young doesn't understand the oilsands or their economic benefit.

Even fellow Canadian musician Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo called Young's comparison of the oilsands with Hiroshima extreme.

"He's grossly exaggerating," Cuddy told Saskatchewan-based Missinipi Broadcasting Corp. "Nobody can say that any kind of open-pit mining — whether it's oil, shale or whatever — is beautiful," he said.

"I'm not sure this is about esthetics. It's about clean water, clean air and economics."

However, Cuddy, who was to play a concert in Fort McMurray on Thursday night, also suggested that Young has triggered a national discussion about the oilsands that is long overdue.

"You have to appreciate that Neil in his own extreme, crazy way has begun a dialogue that we have to have in this country."

Young continued his offensive undeterred Thursday.

"We can preserve what we have so that we can say we did the right thing. If we don't, it's just going to look like the moon in Alberta," he said. "It is like a war zone, a disaster area from war, what's happened up there."

Both the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Shell Canada held a news conference in Calgary to rebut Young's claims. It is the approval Shell has received for its Jackpinemine expansion that the Athabasca Chipewyan are fighting.

Association president Dave Collyer said Young's statements "demonstrate pretty consistently a lack of understanding of the oilsands" and the economic benefits.

"I think it's fair to say the misrepresentations being made on the tour are quite irresponsible," he said. "More importantly, they do a disservice to the First Nations he is ostensibly trying to help, to the many individuals whose livelihoods depend on oilsands activity and ... to Canadians who we believe generally benefit very greatly from oilsands development."

Collyer said Young is entitled to his opinion.

"I would suggest that he has a democratic right to be wrong."

Collyer added he'd be pleased to meet with Young and Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam when they come to Calgary on Sunday for the final stop of the "Honour the Treaties" tour.

Shell vice-president Stephanie Sterling said the world may one day rely solely on renewable fuel sources, but for now oil provides an "affordable" and "accessible" energy source.

"In our experience, the aboriginal peoples want to build sustaining economic communities while they protect their traditional land and the environment," she said.

Adam said First Nations aren't opposed to economic development. But the federal government is bound by treaty to properly consult aboriginal people and use natural resources responsibly.

"We are totally for economic development for our future generations to come but we want to do it in a reasonable way," Adam said. "Our treaties are being broken, in more ways than one."

— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the Winnipeg concert was on Friday.

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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.

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