Prime Minister Stephen Harper made another pitch for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Thursday, telling a New York audience that oil from Canada represents jobs and greater energy security for the United States.

In a question-and-answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday afternoon, Harper said the Keystone XL pipeline “absolutely needs to go ahead,” saying it will create some 40,000 jobs south of the border and reduce Americans’ dependence on offshore oil by 40 per cent.

Harper said Canada is addressing the environmental concerns about the specific project and the oilsands in general, including working on emissions reduction targets. He noted that emissions from the oilsands have dropped 25 per cent over the past decade.

“The truth of the matter is with heavy oil out of the oilsands, yes there are still emissions issues, but no more so than heavy crudes in other parts of the world, including Venezuela,” Harper said. “And I don’t have to tell you there are probably reasons beyond just emissions why you would want to have your oil from Canada rather than from Venezuela.”

Harper warned that if the project is not approved, the alternative will be to ship oil via rail, which he described as “far more environmentally challenging.”

Harper said that although “all the facts are overwhelmingly on the side of approval of this,” he respects that there is a process that must be followed south of the border before the project can go ahead.

But he also noted that Canada’s energy resources are in high demand.

“Whether it’s coal, hydro-electricity, uranium, natural gas, oil, you name it, Canada is one of the largest producers in the world and, in almost every case, with some of the largest reserves in the world,” Harper said. “So whatever the energy mix of the future is, Canada will be a major provider.”

Harper’s New York visit coincides with a message Environment Minister Peter Kent is touting in Europe, which is that the pipeline will give Canada’s oil greater market accessand will lead to better prices.

Oil companies need stronger prices in order to make the necessary investments in order to meet stricter emissions targets, he said.

During his talk, Harper maintained that “less than one tenth of one per cent of global emissions are in the oilsands, so it’s almost nothing globally.”

However, he vowed that Canada would still aim to reduce emissions.

But environmental groups continue to oppose the Keystone pipeline, including a small group of protesters that gathered outside the venue on Thursday.

"No glossy brochures or green-washed billboards can change the fact that the pollution in the tar sands continues to soar," said Hannah MacKinnon, of Environmental Defence Canada.

"It is time for a reality check. The oil industry needs to invest in reducing carbon emissions instead of more empty PR spin."

Obama is expected to make a decision about the Keystone project in the coming months.

With files from The Canadian Press