"It's certainly true that oil that comes by pipeline has far less potential to cause economic damage of that scale because if the pipes are properly constructed, there is an ability to shut them off if there is an explosion or leakage," David Goldwyn, a senior State Department adviser for international energy issues, told a summit on North American energy security.
"It is a consideration, I think, in terms of the environmental aspects of pipeline oil versus deepwater" drilling, he said.
Goldwyn made the comments while sharing a stage yesterday at the Canadian Embassy with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who is in the U.S. capital seeking to quell concerns about the environmental impact of oilsands production.
With international attention now focused on the Gulf - where oil giant BP is scrambling to shut down a ruptured offshore well - the 'safety factor' of shipping crude overland is more prominent in arguments made to U.S. policy-makers by promoters of Alberta oilsands development.
Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Canadian-American Business Council, asked Goldwyn if the "oilsands are looking even better in light of what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico" and if it factored into policymaking regarding proposed pipelines from Canada.
"I don't think anybody is suggesting Canada resources are completely without risk. It's just different," Greenwood said. "If you had a catastrophic event with oil from a pipeline, there is zero chance it would end up in the Florida Keys."
Stelmach called the Gulf oil spill a "tragic event" and said that he did not plan to promote Alberta's oil by drawing contrasts between the safety of pipeline shipments with the dangers of deepwater drilling.