Canada says move comes after European allies said they ‘need help’ as they ease dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Canada plans to increase oil and gas exports this year by up to 300,000 barrels per day, the country’s natural resources minister has said, as nations seek to wean themselves off Russian energy supplies amid the war in Ukraine.
Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement on Thursday that the move – which would amount to an increase of about 5 percent – aims to help Canada’s allies respond to “an energy security crisis” caused by Russia’s ongoing invasion.
“Our European friends and allies need Canada and others to step up,” said Wilkinson, who was in Paris to participate in a meeting at the International Energy Agency (IEA) headquarters.
“They’re telling us they need our help in getting off Russian oil and gas in the short term, while speeding up the energy transition across the continent. Canada is uniquely positioned to help with both.”
Russia provides a large portion of Europe’s energy supplies, but since it launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine late last month, European leaders have said they plan to reduce their dependence on oil and natural gas from Moscow.
The war also has led to a surge in fuel prices, after several countries, including the United States and Canada, barred imports of Russian energy to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the offensive.
Canada, home to the tar sands of northern Alberta, is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world after Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US, and for weeks, pro-oil Canadian politicians have called for the expansion of fossil fuel projects in response to the Ukraine crisis.
But that push has been rejected by environmentalists, who say filling the void left by Russia would worsen the climate crisis, as well as other experts who have pointed out that Canada does not have the infrastructure necessary to rapidly increase exports.
“We know that fossil fuels are destroying the stability of the climate and we know that dependence on foreign sources of oil make us vulnerable to political and economic and military blackmail,” Peter Gleick, a senior fellow at the Pacific Institute in California, told Al Jazeera in early March.
“So if anything,” Gleick added, “[the Ukraine crisis is] a far better opportunity to push non-fossil fuels overall, rather than trying to increase our reliance on just somebody else’s fossil fuels.”
That was echoed by the Canadian environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, who told Canada’s National Observer online newspaper this month that “the solution to global energy problems is not to increase our dependency on fossil fuels” – but rather to reduce oil and gas dependence “regardless of where it’s coming from”.
Thursday’s announcement also comes less than a week before Ottawa releases a detailed plan on how it will cut carbon emissions. Environmental activists urged the government to focus on replacing Russian energy with cleaner sources.
“The only real solution to oil-fuelled aggression against people and the climate is to accelerate the transition off fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy and efficiency,” said Greenpeace Canada’s senior energy strategist Keith Stewart.
Wilkinson, the energy minister, said on Thursday that the Canadian government is also looking at ways it could displace Russian gas with liquified natural gas (LNG) from Canada after requests from European countries.
Wilkinson said Canada is having conversations with European countries about whether it can build more LNG projects. Currently, Canada does not export any LNG, but a SHEL.L consortium led by Shell, an oil and gas company, is building a large facility on the west coast.
Any LNG project would need to be ultra-low emissions and able to transport hydrogen in future as Europe weans itself off fossil fuels, Wilkinson said.