By Euan Rocha
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (Reuters) - Canada's new energy minister, Greg Rickford, says he hopes the Obama administration will "depoliticize" its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, adding he is optimistic that Washington will eventually give the green light to the project, which is stoutly opposed by green groups.
"Obviously we hope sooner rather than later that this is depoliticized, if you will, and that the communities along the pipeline, which include Canada and the United States, can reap the tremendous economic benefits of Keystone," Rickford told reporters after a speech on Friday.
Rickford was reacting to Washington's move last week to further delay a decision on whether to approve TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL project, which would transport crude
from the Alberta oil sands and northern U.S. states to the U.S. Gulf Coast. No U.S. decision on the proposed pipeline is now likely until after the midterm elections in November.
Rickford was appointed to his new portfolio last month and his main task is to win support for the controversial Keystone project as well as other pipelines within Canada.
By linking to refiners in the Gulf Coast, the 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline would boost Canada's oil sands, where heavy oil is abundant but requires the burning vast amounts of fossil fuels to extract.
The project has galvanized the environmental movement, which says consuming carbon fuel to extract oil sands crude will worsen climate change.
The oil industry argues projects such as Keystone can reduce the U.S. reliance on Middle East oil, while allowing the United States to partner with one of its closest allies, Canada.
"On the Keystone, we're still very hopeful ... that this will go ahead sooner rather than later and it will simply add to the economic benefits of pipeline transmission of energy products," Rickford said.
At the same time, he emphasized Canada's need to reduce its reliance on the United States as a buyer of oil and to diversify its markets by completing proposed pipelines to both the country's west and east coasts.
(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Writing by Louise Egan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama; and Peter Galloway)