WASHINGTON - An alliance of Native American tribes, ranchers, farmers, cowboys, and environmentalists is staging a six-day rally in Washington, D.C., to protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline project, a 2,700-kilometer TransCanada pipeline which will move bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
The protesters say they are worried about the project's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety of their aboriginal and farming communities along the route.
Far from giving up on the project to the United States, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said on Tuesday Canada would keep the issue alive with the Obama administration despite a further delay of the U.S. decision on whether to approve it.
Oliver, who vigorously promoted the TransCanada Corp crude oil line as natural resources minister before taking over at finance last month, told reporters he was very disappointed that the U.S. had delayed the decision on Friday "yet again."
Asked if Canada's Conservative government should wait until a new U.S. administration was elected before making a renewed push, he said: "I think it's important for Canada to keep the issue alive."
"After all, this is a project which is supported by a strong majority of Americans," he added, "by a commanding majority of senators and congressmen, by every governor through whose state the pipeline would go. It is widely supported and we want to continue to remind people that the project is there."
The State Department extended a comment period on the $5.4 billion, 830,000 barrel-per-day project, a move that could well delay a final decision until after the U.S. mid-term elections in November.
Oliver said the U.S. delay would affect economic growth and jobs on both sides of the border.
He also said it was an issue of national security, pointing out that Canadian oil would supplant crude from Venezuela, which had threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States five times in the previous five years.
Europe's exposure to a possible cut-off of Russian natural gas and the crisis in Ukraine demonstrate "the vulnerability that countries have when they rely on non-reliable sources of energy," Oliver said. "Canada is a reliable source of energy."
Critics say the pipeline would only encourage the development of the oil sands, and thereby worsen global warming.
Oil companies use large amounts of natural gas to make steam to liquefy heavy oil reserves, creating more carbon dioxide than conventional production.
"I hope people would stick to the facts. The fact is that the oil sands represent a miniscule proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, one one-thousandth, and we have done a great deal to reduce the intensity of emissions," he said.
Coal-fired electricity production in the United States emits 33 times more than all the oil sands put together, he said.
Asked about environmental activists coming to Canada to focus on the oil sands, he said: "I think that perhaps people coming from the United States might contemplate what the record is there and take that into account."
Canada's emissions per capita and in relation to gross domestic product are somewhat lower than in the United States, he added.
Delay reinforces Obama strategy
The latest delay to a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will reinforce a White House strategy to energize President Barack Obama's liberal-leaning base before fall elections in which Democrats risk losing control of the U.S. Senate.
Environmentalists, worried about the project's effect on climate change, have put enormous pressure on the president to reject the pipeline from Canada's oil sands, staging demonstrations outside the White House and protests in states where he travels.
A decision to approve it now could have prompted that vocal group, which was instrumental in electing Obama in 2008 and 2012, to sit out the Nov. 4 congressional elections.
The State Department's announcement on Friday that it would give government agencies more time to study the project was seen by strategists from both parties as a move to prevent that and boost Obama in the eyes of his supporters. Support for the president, or lack of it, is generally reflected in mid-term voter turnout.
Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally-friendly candidates.
"This is rotten eggs for TransCanada and good news on Good Friday for those who oppose Keystone as not being in our nation's best interest," Steyer said in a statement.
Obama cannot run for re-election again, but the outcome of the congressional elections, particularly control of the Senate, will determine how much of his agenda can be enacted during his final two years in office.
Diaa Bekheet in Washington contributed to this report.