By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A pair of recent accidents that spilled Canadian crude oil in the United States is part of doing business in the energy industry and should not prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from moving forward, Alberta's premier said on Tuesday.
"We have to be honest about the fact that if we do have energy development, there is the risk of really unfortunate incidents," Alison Redford, whose province is home to Canada's oil sands, said during a panel at the Brookings Institution.
The Obama administration is expected to decide late this summer on whether to approve TransCanada Corp's proposed 800,000 barrel-per-day Keystone XL pipeline. The project would connect the oil sands, the world's third largest petroleum deposit, with refineries in Texas.
Opponents are attempting to delay the already years-long approval process after two high profile accidents involving Canadian crude. They are urging the department to extend a comment period due to end on April 22 to 120 days from 45.
Residents are beginning to return to some of the 22 homes evacuated after Exxon Mobil Corp's Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude in an Arkansas neighborhood late last month.
A few days earlier, a Canadian Pacific Ltd train derailed in rural Minnesota with a tanker car leaking several hundred barrels of Alberta crude oil.
ALBERTA'S CLIMATE PROPOSAL NOT A PLAN YET
Redford is on her fourth visit to Washington on Keystone-related matters, and is meeting with lawmakers and members of the Obama administration about Canada's environmental programs.
She said she was not in Washington to negotiate but to talk about steps Alberta has taken to clean up the oil sands.
Redford's talk at Brookings was interrupted by about 10 anti-Keystone protesters, including one who ran toward the stage as he avoided being tackled by security.
Redford calmly said there was little need to worry about the Keystone pipeline because it would be "state of the art technology" and that overall accidents involving transport of crude are overall "very isolated."
Besides the recent accidents, many environmentalists oppose the line because developing the oil sands is carbon intensive.
Alberta is considering an increase in the carbon levy it would charge oil producers as it seeks to show Washington it is serious about climate change, according to a report last week in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
Since 2007 Canada has had a carbon levy that forces producers of emissions over certain level to pay into a fund that pays for green projects.
Redford told reporters the proposal to raise the carbon levy from the current C$15 per metric ton (1.1023 tons) to C$40 per metric ton was not in the planning stage yet. Alberta's Environment Minister Diana McQueen, who was also at the talk, said the government was in the early stages of reviewing its climate change strategy.
"At some point in time if there's any changes we will be transparent and open to discussing those," McQueen said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Ros Krasny and Bob Burgdorfer)