Environmental regulations for Canada's oil-and-gas sector are in their final stages, the environment minister said Tuesday.
The regulations would seek to curb the sector's greenhouse-gas emissions to help Canada meet a 2020 target for a 17 per cent cut in overall emissions from 2005 levels.
Rules are already in place for the transportation and coal-fired electricity industries, but estimates suggest they get Canada only halfway to that goal.
Environment Minister Peter Kent told a House of Commons committee his objective is for the regulations on the oil and gas industries to help close the gap.
"We're in the final stages now of setting the stringency levels and I would hope that certainly by mid-year we would be in a position to share those," Kent said.
The regulations have been in the works since fall 2011, but they are taking longer than expected, Kent said. "They haven't been delayed – it's just been the capacity of the department," he said after his testimony.
"We spent more time than originally intended on the coal-fired electricity generation sector but we're in the final stages now and that's always the toughest area in terms of setting stringency."
It took more than two years to introduce regulations on coal-fired power plants, and opposition from industry and provincial governments helped delay them until last fall.
Meanwhile, most of the benefits may have little impact on overall 2020 targets, as they apply mainly to new operations.
Kent said he was trying to avoid a repeat of the process that bogged down the coal regulations by consulting widely ahead of time.
As home to the oil-and-gas industry, Alberta opened an office in Ottawa this year to ensure its voice is heard in the process, and the province has been central in the talks to create the new rules.
It's expected the regulations will contain a provision that will allow provincial governments to administer the regulations themselves, as long as they meet or exceed federal standards.
The Conservatives have announced a flurry of climate-change-related initiatives in the last few weeks, partly seen as a response to U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, in which he promised to act on climate change.
A senior Environment Canada official told MPs that what happens in the U.S. is taken into account in crafting policy north of the border.
"The recent announcements, the president's inaugural speech, and the increased intensity of climate change discussion in the U.S. is obviously important to us," deputy minister Bob Hamilton said.
He noted Canada has aligned its greenhouse-gas reduction targets with the U.S., and worked with Washington on regulations for the transportation sector.
"What the U.S. does or thinks about climate change is obviously something important we have to consider within our policy structure and framework," Hamilton said.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was in the U.S. on Tuesday, urging Americans to think twice about rejecting TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline on environmental grounds.
Last week, the U.S. State Department released a draft environmental assessment of the project and determined the pipeline wouldn't contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, nor would it spur further oil sands development.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall began a four-day visit to the U.S. capital that includes meetings with several top officials, including Kerri-Ann Jones, an assistant secretary of state on international environmental affairs, and Eric Cantor, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.