Maria van der Hoeven, a retired Dutch politician and leader of the IEA from 2011 to 2015, says there's time for Canada to compete in a field led by players from the Middle East, Australia, Russia and, increasingly, the United States.

She says the question is whether Canada can overcome its unique regulatory hurdles to build projects and be ready to deliver liquefied natural gas as demand ramps up in Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan.

Environmentalists unrealistic, says former director

Van der Hoeven says she's impressed by the $40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, the first major Canadian LNG export terminal under construction, because it shows the market exists for that production.

But she adds it's important that Canada have more than one LNG export terminal on the West Coast — where it has a geographical advantage over the U.S. because it is closer to Asia — and that it also export LNG from the East Coast so that it has access to the European market.

Van der Hoeven says environmentalists who have attacked the use of natural gas to replace coal because it's also a fossil fuel are being unrealistic if they think the world can wean itself off all fossil fuels in a decade or less.

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