By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA, May 25 (Reuters) - North American energy ministers said on Monday they had set up a working group on climate change and energy, a partnership designed to help Canada, the United States and Mexico harmonize policies.
The partnership does not include binding targets, but will enhance cooperation and integrate more climate change-related policies into energy discussions between the countries, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said during a conference call.
All three governments said they will prioritize working together on issues, including efficiency of electricity grids, pursuing new clean energy technologies and aligning regulations to control emissions from the oil and gas sector.
The agreement comes even as Canada's right-leaning Conservative government and the Obama administration clash over the lengthy and ongoing U.S. review of TransCanada Corp proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Alberta's oil sands region with the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Environmental groups have aggressively campaigned against the project, arguing that it would accelerate heat-trapping emissions from the oil sands.
Canada's government has criticized the Obama administration for delaying the decision, while U.S. President Barack Obama has questioned the economic benefits of the project, indicating he would not approve it if it exacerbates global warming.
Canada has also repeatedly pledged to introduce emissions regulations for the oil and gas sector in recent years, only to delay those plans.
In December, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it would be "crazy" to introduce new rules at a time when global oil prices are plummeting.
Rickford, who met with his North American counterparts in Merida, Mexico, said Canada could align itself with recently proposed U.S. rules to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations as part of Monday's agreement. He said this could lead to other regulations for Canadian oil and gas companies.
"I believe we've had some very serious discussions around the potential this (focus on methane) holds for oil and gas regs in general," said Rickford, following his meeting with Ernest Moniz and Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, the U.S. and Mexican energy secretaries, respectively.
Monday's agreement would also enhance cooperation on technologies to capture and bury greenhouse gas emissions underground, Rickford said. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and G Crosse)