Harper Says Canada to Speed Energy Reviews in Bid for Asia Sales

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government plans to reform its regulatory system so energy projects can get faster approval as the country looks to sell more oil and gas to Asia.

“It’s essential that we be able sell our energy products outside of North America to partners, countries other than the United States,” Harper said today in Bangkok at a news conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. “That will require some significant infrastructure projects to go forward, and we’re obviously, as we’ve indicated, looking at taking steps necessary to ensure we can get timely regulatory decisions.”

Harper’s Conservative government has vowed to accelerate the regulatory review process for projects such as pipelines, as the country seeks to build oil-exporting capacity after President Barack Obama in January denied TransCanada Corp. a permit for its Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Harper is making his first official visit to Thailand on a six-day trip in which he will also travel to Japan and South Korea, two other potential markets.

Canada sits on the world’s third-largest pool of oil reserves, and currently exports the overwhelming majority of its crude to the U.S.

Canada Trade

Canada had a combined merchandise trade deficit of C$5.7 billion ($5.7 billion) with Japan, South Korea and Thailand last year, according to Canadian government figures.

Harper and Yingluck today agreed to study the economic potential of a free-trade agreement between the two countries, which did C$3.5 billion in merchandise trade in 2011, up 14.8 percent from a year earlier.

The Canadian prime minister said he’s confident his government can reach a trade pact with Thailand. Since taking office in 2006, Canada has concluded free-trade agreements with nine countries, including Colombia, Jordan and Peru.

Yingluck urged Canadian companies to invest in Thai industries including electronics, machinery, automobiles, information technology and clean energy. The two countries discussed the expansion of energy cooperation, she said in a statement.

Human Smuggling

They also agreed to cooperate to combat human smuggling, terrorism and cross-border crime, she said.

PTT Exploration & Production Pcl, Thailand’s biggest publicly listed oil and gas explorer, acquired a 40 percent stake in an oil-sands project in Canada for $2.28 billion in November 2010, the biggest acquisition by a Thai company.

Harper last month led a delegation of more than 40 business executives and five ministers to deepen links with China.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty plans to include new measures to expedite environmental approvals for energy projects in the government’s March 29 budget, a person familiar with the document said.

In a Feb. 11 interview with Bloomberg News, Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver said regulatory changes will include hard deadlines for reviews.

“One of the things we absolutely need is firm and enforceable timelines from the beginning of the process to the end,” Oliver said.

The government began hearings in January on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline by Enbridge Inc. to move crude from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s coast, where it could be shipped to Asian markets. The pipeline has become a flashpoint with environmentalists and Harper’s government.

Public Hearings

Regulators have received more than 4,000 requests by individuals to testify at public hearings. Environmental and aboriginal groups say the project will increase the risk of an oil spill off the coast of British Columbia. The regulatory panel has said it plans to complete the review by the end of 2013.

The government will be looking more closely into complaints that environmental groups backed with foreign money are seeking to overload the regulatory process, Harper has said. Canada also sees Asian countries as promising markets for its natural gas.

Apache Corp., the second-largest U.S. independent oil and natural-gas producer by market value, said March 6 it’s moving toward a decision to go ahead with a liquefied natural gas project that would ship LNG from a terminal in Kitimat, on Canada’s west coast. Calgary-based Encana Corp. is a partner in the project.

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