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Oil sands less risky than offshore drilling, Prentice says

Environment Minister Jim Prentice says the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows that Canada's oil sands are less risky than offshore drilling.

He said he is "appalled and horrified" that a damaged well spewing an estimated 750,000 litres of oil a day has created a slick that stretches for kilometres off the Louisiana coast.

Mr. Prentice just returned from climate-change negotiations with other environment ministers in Germany. He said the well was discussed briefly and concerns expressed about how to prevent similar occurences.

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Canada's oil sands have been targeted internationally by critics who say producing their "dirty oil" releases more carbon dioxide into the air than conventional crude oil.

But the events in the gulf put the oil sands in perspective, Mr. Prentice suggested Friday.

"I think it's always been clear that the oil sands provide a safe, stable, secure supply of energy and they need to be developed in an environmentally responsible way. The risks associated with the oil sands, the environmental risks, are significantly different than, and probably less than the kind of risks associated with offshore drilling," he said.

"But we still have to be on our game in terms of the environmental regulations for the oil sands as well."

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Environment Minister Rob Renner have been fighting an international public relations war against heavyweight enviro-critics and celebrities, including National Geographic, the Audubon Society and Hollywood kingpin director James Cameron.

Mr. Stelmach is in Washington and has met with U.S. senators regarding the oil sands and their role in American energy security and job creation.

"Meeting face-to-face with senators was an opportunity to explain Alberta's responsible energy development," he said in a news release. "As the United States moves forward with climate change policies, it is imperative that U.S. lawmakers have a full and accurate understanding of oil sands development."

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Mr. Prentice, who was in Washington three weeks ago, said it's imperative to keep pushing the message.

"It's important that we as Albertans continue to go to Washington, that we as Canadians explain in the United States and elsewhere ... that we are developing the oil sands up to the highest possible environmental standards. We need to communicate that fact.

"We also need to ensure that our standards are the highest possible."

The Environment Minister said he is confident that strong regulations Ottawa has in place will prevent any offshore disasters in Canadian waters.

"We have never had that kind of occurrence. We've successfully drilled many wells. I think that speaks to the regulatory environment that we've had, the diligence we have put in to regulating oil and gas activity, the fact that we have and must continue to demand from industry the highest possible standards."

Canada has a moratorium on drilling off the coast of British Columbia. It was instituted in the 1970s by the federal government to stop a small amount of exploration in environmentally sensitive waters.

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