POLITICS
09/30/2011 02:24 EDT | Updated 11/30/2011 05:12 EST

Alberta energy minister likens pipeline companies to baby seals

CALGARY - Alberta's energy minister says pipeline companies are being victimized by an increasingly hostile environmental movement.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Ron Liepert noted it wasn't long ago that the pipeline sector went largely unnoticed, but that has changed with TransCanada's (TSX:TRP) plans for the Keystone XL pipeline to ship oilsands product south through the United States.

"I think back to the good old days this pipeline business used to be sort of a sleepy, boring, unnoticed part of the industry. That's not the case anymore," Liepert said.

"I think pipelines have sort of become the baby seals of the environmental groups these days."

Liepert said the attacks against both the pipeline and Alberta's oilsands are becoming increasingly vitriolic.

"The rhetoric has certainly increased and when the rhetoric increases it starts to put doubt in people's minds. We face the difficulty of combating emotion with facts," he said.

"The facts prove out, but the problem is it takes five minutes to explain every situation and we are in a 15 second sound-bite world. We have to find better ways of countering that emotion instead of simply trotting out all the facts and data."

TransCanada's proposed $7 billion pipeline, which would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has become a lightning rod for the American environmental movement since climate-change legislation once passionately promoted by the Obama administration failed.

The U.S. State Department has said there's no evidence the pipeline would have a significant impact on the six U.S. states it would cut through to get from Alberta to Texas.

"I don't think there's going to be any basis in which environmentalists are going to be able to say we have to do a review again because it's been done," Liepert added.

"You have to look at what the ultimate goal of the environmental campaign is and that is to rid the world of fossil fuels. We happen to sit on the largest proven reserve in the world," he said.

"This isn't about pipelines. It's about ridding the world of fossil fuels and pipelines happen to be the avenue used today."

The chairman of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association doesn't see the industry as a baby seal, but acknowledges that the unfavourable publicity has caused its members to band together.

"I think it's been a bit of a rallying cry and a uniting force for our industry. We spend more time together debating the issues and the priorities and the strategies to move forward than we ever have," said Ian Anderson.

Liepert said Alberta's new premier, who will be chosen on Saturday, will need to get the message out about the oilsands and find new markets for the province's natural resources.