Hundreds of activists in the United States were arrested when they blocked a road near the White House in protest of plans to build a pipeline carrying oil from tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the southern U.S. coast.
Backers of the project say it's better to get "dirty" oil from Canada than from unfriendly regimes in the Middle East and Latin America.
Energy-hungry China is examining the resource potential in Canada, which ranks behind only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in terms of proven oil reserves.
Jeff Sundquist, a representative to Europe for the Alberta provincial government, told the Financial Times that the main challenge is to address "misperceptions of the Canadian and Alberta energy sectors."
He said exploration projects in Alberta cover less than 0.1 percent of the total land mass, suggesting Alberta crude is something of a scapegoat for environmentalists upset with a petroleum-based economy.
Nearly all of the 175 billion barrels of oil in Canada are in Alberta oil sands. The International Energy Agency noted that Canadian crude could address "the collective security of all IEA member countries."