Black Press Media Group owner and chair David Black on Thursday announced plans to construct a $13 billion oil refinery near Kitimat, B.C..
The announcement is debate-changing for the proposed Northern Gateway Project because it directly impacts the environmental impacts of offshore tankers and greatly increases the profit share to B.C. and Canada as a whole from the tar sands resource.
Black’s proposal for the “greenest and cleanest” refinery would potentially create 6,000 direct jobs during construction of the project and 3,000 direct jobs during operation of the refinery.
Black said his motivation for the proposal has to do with the next generation, and creating jobs for the future, for young workers and to replace jobs being lost in the contracting forest industry.
“I think this is the right thing to do for the province, I think it’s nation-building,” said Black. While the generation previous to his left a legacy of opportunity and good jobs for his generation, Black said he was not sure his generation had done the same for the next generation, with huge government deficits, a lack of job opportunities, and depleted fisheries and forest sectors.
“It’s time we looked after the next generation a little bit,” he said.
But Black was also quick to clarify he does not want to see Northern Gateway go ahead at all costs so his project can move forward.
“If we can’t assure ourselves that any leaks would be immaterial … then we shouldn’t proceed,” he said, saying it has been “unnerving” to see the devastation in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where a spill seriously impacted the river. However, he said the motivation for Enbridge to do better is twofold, both ethical and financial.
“Nobody can afford to have another Kalamazoo,” said Black, who has met with Enbridge officials and believes they are sincerely embarrassed by the incidents in Kalamazoo, the leak north of Edmonton and the most recent spill in Wisconsin. “I think we can trust them to do the best job possible,” he said.
The refinery he has proposed would be the first high end one in North America in about 35 years and would use technology he thinks could make it the cleanest one for decades to come.
The proposal would reduce tanker traffic by one third and maintain lower fuel prices for Canadians instead of having them buy back refined oil from China.
The proposal has already been met with stiff criticism, as some economists doubt the project is feasible, however, Black said he had contracted two independent consultants to establish the economic viability of a refinery in Canada.
“The industry doesn’t want to do it because it’s not the most profitable end of their business,” he said, but this doesn’t mean it is not at all profitable.
While the question was immediately asked at the press conference why if he is concerned about the next generations he does not invest $13 billion in renewable energy, Black said he would like to see that eventually, but doesn’t think we’re ready to “turn off the tap” just yet.
Environmental opponents still say they do not want to see bitumen piped across B.C.’s remote and often pristine wilderness, putting watersheds, wildlife and fisheries jobs at risk.
So far, the announcement only marks the beginning of the lengthy environmental assessment process, but this is the first step in any such process and Black said he wanted to present the proposal publicly to help change the discussion.
Black said he will be personally funding the environmental assessment of the proposal and will then be looking for financing and working on negotiating with First Nations and other communities as the process continues.
The proposed refinery would process up to 550,000 barrels of crude a day, producing 240,000 barrels of diesel fuel, 100,000 of gasoline and 50,000 of kerosene a day.
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan was on the phone during the announcement and said she fully supports the project.
“This is a very great day in our history,” she said. “I feel that this project will probably change the face of the northwest.”
So far, critics do not seem to be taking the proposal seriously, dismissing the announcement as being unsupported. So far, no agreements are in place with oil companies, Enbridge, First Nations or potential customers.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad called the project a “$13 billion pipe dream” but said he would welcome the idea of an oil refinery for Canada to gain more of the economic benefit of the resource.
However, he also said there is still a long way to go on dealing with the pipeline and whether or not it will go ahead.
“I seem to remember debating the NDP in the legislature this past spring where they were saying we needed to add value to the pipeline products and I challenged each and everyone of them; I said: So which one of you is willing to stand up and support the idea of an oil refinery going into your riding, and they were all silent.”
While Rustad said it may satisfy some people, he does not see the possible refinery eliminating Northern Gateway pipeline opposition.
“I suspect for many people living along the pipeline that are concerned about a potential spill, I don’t think anything will really change that particular perspective.”
“I have always been pro development but I’m concerned about environmental issues,” he said.
But he does think Enbridge is putting together a good project with high standards, and the final decision is a federal one, but he is concerned about the way opposition is influencing the process.
“Not just for Enbridge but for any project, if we’re going to start making political decisions rather than base things on science then I think we’re going down a very dangerous road,” he said.
Fort St. James Mayor Rob MacDougall said the announcement will not sway his opinion in opposition to the pipeline.
“Because my concern is the unrefined crude going overland,” he said. While the District of Fort St. James has taken a public stand in opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, MacDougall said council will likely have some informal discussion about the new proposal and if the majority of council wishes to revisit their stance, then they will, however he doesn’t see that happening.
He said if the refinery were to be built in Alberta, it might help to address some of his concerns, but he would still be looking at the potential environmental impacts in the area of a pipeline.