PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Addressing the environmental concerns of aboriginal communities in Canada is a "critical" step in natural resources development, a resources minister said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is looking to diversify an energy economy dependent almost exclusively on the United States by courting Asian economies. That involves support for oil and natural gas export projects in British Columbia.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told delegates at a provincial natural gas summit a responsible energy plan put environmental concerns first.
"Relationships built on trust and mutual respect are tremendously important as we work to seize this wonderful opportunity for resource development," he said in his address Wednesday. "Addressing environmental and economic concerns of First Nations communities is a critical first step."
Aboriginal communities have expressed concern resource development would spoil the pristine coastal environment.
Oliver said the Harper administration has already increased its safety regulations and penalties for the oil and natural gas sector. Natural gas production and liquefied natural gas developments, meanwhile, could add $554 billion to the economy through 2035, he said.