Serious oil sands refinery proposals start with the right geography
By Bruce A Stewart
David Black, BC local newspaper magnate and owner of the Black Press, has proposed a way out of the Northern Gateway stalemate.
He’d build an oil sands refinery in Kitimat, where Northern Gateway as proposed by Enbridge is to end. BC would get the refining jobs.
Well, you can tell a serious proposal by whether it meets the objections being raised. This answers none of them.
Given that those objections are held by British Columbians of all stripes from Green voters to Conservative voters, you might think making it possible for a good number of them to say “yes” would be appropriate.
Look, people don’t change their minds for a fig-leaf, and that’s all that this is.
Please help us serve you better by filling out this brief survey form. We thank you for your feedback and your commitment to local online news.
David Black has no experience worthy of the name or expertise in oil sands refinery operations. Strike one.
He’s wealthy, sure, but for this kind of operation there’ll be much more investment required — so where’s the partners? Strike two.
Finally, this proposal maintains all the liabilities in Northern Gateway. Dilbit — the worst oil product if a spill occurs — still transits the entire province to tidewater. Tankers still head out the arm, past Coste Island, between Loretta Island and Maitland Island, around Hawkesbury Island, and out into the Inner Passage (where BC Ferries runs and, right at the exit of the arm, lies Gil Island and the sunken Queen of the North) and then many more islands to reach the open Pacific. And I haven’t even gotten to Enbridge’s reputation (but I will note all their filings for the pipeline application still ignore the Michigan spill of diluted bitumen (dilbit) that occurred in 2010).
Strike three, and you’re out. If Black wants to help Christy Clark, he’d be better off pumping her in his newspapers.
There is, however, a gem buried in this floating balloon.
So far, Alberta has been studiously unwilling to consider telling anyone in the oil business in that province that the price tag of admission is to do more than just export raw product.
Well, that’s fair enough (if lousy for Canadians): it’s their jurisdiction.
BC, on the other hand, if it wants the work and safer transmission of oil products across its terrain, should make it clear: approvals for suitably safe pipelines will not be unreasonably withheld, but dilbit is a non-starter.
“You can pipe that stuff as far as the refinery on the border — from there, what moves is gasoline, kerosene, diesel, etc. Not dilbit.”
BC’s own oil and gas industry is centred in the Peace River district in the northeast corner of the province. It’s approved the building of gas pipelines already to the coast for export as LNG (which means gas from a refinery wouldn’t need to be flared: it could find a market as well).
Five to ten kilometres, more or less, from the Alberta border to a oil sands refinery at Dawson Creek, is all that would be required from a dilbit point of view. Everything crossing BC would be the kinds of products that if something happened could be far more easily contained and cleaned up.
The other issue is Kitimat. The only reason to exit there is that it makes for a shorter journey that doesn’t end up in the middle of the Vancouver metropolitan area.
Prince Rupert makes far more sense: wider channels, right on the open ocean, the railway line and Highway 16 corridors a logical route to seaside terminals.
Coming from Dawson Creek, that’d be straight down either the BC Rail or Highway 97 corridor to Prince George, then straight west to Prince Rupert. Easy, simple, maintainable route.
Now something like that would be a serious proposal. It’s a pity none of the BC Government, Enbridge, or a key investor like Black can see it.
If John Cummins wants to shove his BC Conservatives over Clark’s Liberals, this might very well be a good place to start.