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B.C.-Alberta panel urges harmonizing rail, roads, pipelines for economic growth

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EDMONTON - A joint study group says it will work to identify the best way to harmonize roads, rail, pipelines and permits in Alberta and British Columbia to get the most value for energy exports.

The cross-provincial working group, in a report released Monday, says getting more oilfield equipment moved from the ports through B.C.'s mountainous interior to the oilfields is an emerging issue.

Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen said it's further evidence that the energy sector has multiple ripple effects.

"If there's opportunities for that (shipment of equipment) to happen, Alberta is fine with that as well," McQueen said in an interview.

"We've always said there's lots of benefits for both provinces, and certainly for the nation as a whole."

Port authorities in Vancouver have been working to get more oilsands equipment shipped through their facilities, but have been hamstrung by permit delays, red tape and the perception that oversized loads aren't allowed on mountain roads.

The study group was set up last summer as part of the two provinces' mutual interest in Calgary-based Enbridge's (TSX:ENB) proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would take Alberta crude through B.C. to ports in Kitimat.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, set up the group, chaired by deputy ministers, to look not only at expanding energy exports but at markets for other exports as well.

Monday's report sets out preliminary recommendations and timelines over the next 18 months to reach a final report. It estimates that Canada is losing out on $50 million a day in potential revenues by not having pipelines to take product to emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere.

The panel said more information needs to be disseminated, including through social media, to bridge the "disconnect" in public consciousness on the true value to jobs and income that stems from the oil and gas industries.

It urges stronger governmental oversight to monitor and prevent oilspills on land and in water.

It suggests a permanent working group between Alberta and British Columbia to share ideas to prevent spills.

It proposes a formal process to make sure First Nations are consulted and benefit from oil and gas activity on their land.

And it reiterates an agreement struck last year by the two premiers that B.C. is free to negotiate with industry to seek better economic benefits on the pipelines, but without seeking a cut of Alberta's oil royalties.

The recommendations flow from five conditions B.C. has put on its acceptance of the Northern Gateway line, which has met fierce resistance from environmental and some First Nations groups.

McQueen said Monday's report sets definite timelines and actions to meeting those conditions.

The fate of the Northern Gateway line is in the hands of the federal government, which is expected to make a decision in June.

Last December, a federal review panel signed off on the 1,170-kilometre line, saying the public good would outweigh the negatives — if 209 conditions are met.

If approved, the earliest the line would be in service would be 2018.

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