Fact-finding mission

The new U.S. ambassador to Canada sat down for breakfast Monday with a conservation group and Alberta’s oilsands were on the menu.

United States ambassador to Canada David Jacobson.

EDMONTON — The new U.S. ambassador to Canada sat down for breakfast Monday with a conservation group and Alberta’s oilsands were on the menu.

Ambassador David Jacobson requested the meeting to get the Pembina Institute’s views on the massive energy development’s environmental implications, said executive director Marlo Raynolds.

Raynolds said he told Jacobson no further projects should be approved until limits are set on the environmental affects on water, land and climate.

“He (Jacobson) is very actively reaching out to really understand and learn as much as he can,” Raynolds said.

“In no way did I get an impression that he has formulated a position on the oilsands. I think he is really open to understanding all of the perspectives about the pros and the cons of the oilsands.”

Jacobson was to meet later in the day with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach for the first time. Earlier this month, the ambassador met with oilsands industry officials in Fort McMurray, toured the region and met with some aboriginal leaders.

Raynolds said Jacobson was well informed and asked a lot of questions about the oilsands, which produce about 1.3 million barrels of oil daily — with plans to double production in coming years.

Jacobson said earlier this month that Canada is a pillar in the energy security of the United States, but that must be balanced with protecting the environment.

Jacobson, a lawyer, was particularly interested in how Alberta and the federal government deal with jurisdiction when it comes to energy and the environment, Raynolds said.

The Pembina Institute suggested environmental groups and First Nations should be included in talks aimed at setting environmental limits on the oilsands. Raynolds said withholding new approvals wouldn’t hurt projects that have already been approved and are to be built over the next 10 years.

“Our key message was we feel that there is a level of oilsands that can be developed responsibly,” he said. “At this stage we need to pause with respect to further approvals of new projects.”

Raynolds said Jacobson was “very much in listening mode and learning as much as he can. It says a lot that he is reaching out to many voices.”

Some environmental groups call oilsands crude “dirty oil” because of the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced when it is refined. The oilsands have become a political issue in the United States.

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