* "Nice Canadians" seen too ready to compromise
* Economic benefits need to be considered more
* Company has been moving some crude by rail
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, May 16 Canadian government
moves to quicken economic gains by shortening environmental
reviews for big energy projects and de-clawing some oil industry
critics are on the right track, a senior executive at Canada's
largest independent oil explorer said on Wednesday.
John Langille, vice-chairman of Canadian Natural Resources
Ltd, said he believes there has been too much
compromise with those who do not want projects to move forward
under any circumstances, and that has led to overly cumbersome
rreviews for developers.
"Fundamentally, I have to agree with the federal government
that our regulatory system has become too much of an onerous
task to get approval for projects," Langille told reporters
after a company-sponsored investor meeting.
"In some cases, we're, maybe, nice Canadians - we want to
try to compromise with everybody, so when someone opposes
something we want to try to compromise with them. Maybe as
Canadians we have to stop doing that to a certain degree."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has
packed some big changes to environmental assessments and
approvals into a sweeping budget bill. New rules would apply
first to Enbridge Inc's C$5.5 billion Northern Gateway
oil pipeline, the subject of hearings that started in January.
The project, which would move crude derived from Alberta's
oil sands to the Pacific Coast, faces opposition from
environmentalists and some aboriginal groups.
Changes include putting time limits on hearings, restricting
participation to those deemed directly affected by projects or
having relevant expertise, and removing the final say on
approvals from the regulators and giving it to the federal
Government ministers have also been highly critical of
pipeline opponents, saying many are radicals bent on delaying
the process or are tools of wealthy U.S. interests that would
benefit by Canada's oil remaining landlocked.
Canadian Natural is one of the country's largest producers
of heavy oil, which has been priced at a deep discount to
international crudes, partly because of a glut in U.S. Midwest
and Midcontinent markets. It plans to expand its 110,000 barrel
a day Horizon oil sands project in northern Alberta.
Langille said it is important that Canada consider more of
the economic benefits from energy infrastructure projects and
also developments proposed by other industries, such as mining.
"I think the feds are going down a path that ultimately will
get us to a better result than we are today," he said.
He declined to comment on whether he believed Ottawa is
demonizing industry critics.
He said, however, that indefinite periods for approvals are
a major concern when companies seek to meet their own deadlines.
"I don't mind going through the process - don't get me wrong
- I think it's very good that we have set up processes where we
do look at things and make sure at the end of the day they're
doing right," Langille said
"I just think there's a much better way to streamline the
process - you don't have to drag them out as long as sometimes
they're allowed to drag out - that's all."
As Canadian Natural waits to move its crude on projects such
as Northern Gateway, TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL
pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast and a line to get crude to
Eastern Canada, it has resorted to sending small amounts to
Houston by rail, in addition to the oil it moves on regular
pipeline links to U.S. markets.
Executives said the company is moving 7,000 barrels a day by
rail, at a cost of $12-$15 per barrel. This is seen as
short-term solution, Langille said. Spot pipeline rates for the
same distance would be $8-$9 a barrel.
The railroads do not have extensive loading facilities in
Alberta for oil, so that limits volumes, he said.
"We are not approaching it as end-all, be-all. Pipelines are
still by far the best solution to get oil from where it gets
produced to the refineries," he said.
The company has 120,000 barrels a day of capacity booked for
Keystone XL, which now faces a second round of U.S. scrutiny
after TransCanada reapplied this month to build it.