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OTTAWA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Canada said on Thursday it was close to unveiling long-delayed rules on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands, a move that could help persuade U.S. skeptics that Ottawa is serious about curbing climate change.
High-profile protesters, citing what they say is Canada's poor green record, want President Barack Obama to block TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Gulf Coast.
Obama made clear in his State of the Union speech this week that he wanted to focus on climate change, and David Jacobson, U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, said Canada needed to do more to curb emissions.
The Conservative government, which together with the province of Alberta insists it serious about tackling global warming, has repeatedly delayed the release of proposed rules to curb emissions from the oil and gas sector.
"We're going to be moving on that and that, I think, will send a signal not only to the Americans but to the world that we're very serious about this issue," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told reporters.
Minutes earlier, Environment Minister Peter Kent told the House of Commons that "we are now well into, and very close to finalizing, regulations for the oil and gas sector". He did not give details.
Canada is the biggest supplier of energy to the United States and sits on the world's third-largest reserves of crude. Much of it is in the clay-like tar sands of Alberta and needs large amounts of energy to extract.
Canada says it will cut output of greenhouse gases by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020, a goal that even Kent admits cannot be reached unless the government and the energy industry do more.
Environmentalists are skeptical about how serious Ottawa really is about clamping down on the energy sector, given the Conservatives' close ties with the industry and their determination to increase exports of oil and gas.
U.S. officials say a final decision on Keystone is unlikely before the middle of the year. Jacobson told reporters in Toronto on Thursday that his comments about Canada doing more on climate change were not a threat.
The Globe and Mail newspaper, noting that the United States is the world's second largest producer of greenhouse gases, said "it feels like Canada has been singled out as a convenient example of President Obama's new determination on climate change. But the potential damage to Canada is out of proportion with a message that verges on double-talk."