Fort McMurray is a long way to travel from Campbell River for high-paying jobs.
But imagine a closer journey to the workplace, say a one-hour flight from the local airport to Kitimat where the world’s most modern oil refinery produces gasoline that is shipped to China on a new fleet of natural gas-powered tankers.
Better still, the refinery and tankers belong to B.C.-based companies; jobs average $100,000 a year; and more wages and taxes stay in this province for health and education.
“It’s way better to do it here in Canada,” said newspaper owner and oil refinery advocate David Black.
The Victoria-based entrepreneur – owner of Black Press, parent company of the Mirror – spoke last Friday about his ambitious plan to build the world’s cleanest-operating oil refinery during a sold-out luncheon hosted by the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce.
While many business people were there to hear about the economics and potential opportunities, Black’s first remarks were aimed at his environmental concerns.
“I’m a sailor. I’ve been up this coast. It’s beautiful and I don’t want to see it ruined.”
Black’s plan – that would cost approximately $32 billion – involves a couple big “ifs.”
First and foremost: Will the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline ever get built from Edmonton to Kitimat?
And, if so: Will there be a refinery to ship gasoline instead of oil tankers to carry diluted bitumen?
Black’s biggest fear is a tanker accident and bitumen spills into the coastal waters. It would sink into the sediment, be next to impossible to ever remove, and would contaminate all aquatic species for generations.
“We’re crazy to allow this stuff to be shipped on our watch,” Black stated.
He doesn’t want to see a major gasoline spill either, but the difference is enormous, he pointed out. Gasoline quickly evaporates while the latter sinks and sticks to everything.
As an example, he pointed to the 2007 accident near the famous Orca rubbing beaches at Robson Bight in Johnstone Strait. A barge tipped and dumped logging equipment into the water. Thousands of litres in diesel were spilled and created a kilometres-long slick which dissipated within days.
“Bitumen is a hundred times worse…there’s no technology to pick it up,” said Black.
He also defended the project when a woman questioned the need for a greenhouse-producing refinery when Canada, and B.C., should be supporting alternative energy production.
Black didn’t get in a tit-for-tat over alternative energy, instead pointing out that if the plant isn’t built in Canada, it will be built in China which is unlikely to impose the same standard of environmental protection.
For starters, he said, the B.C. refinery would not produce coke byproduct that would result in 100 railway train cars per day of waste.
The other consideration, he said, is that oil producers want to get their products to the B.C. coast to ship to Asia and that will happen by rail car if a pipeline isn’t built. A modern pipeline, said Black, is much more safer than shipping by rail.
Black admitted it’s been an uphill battle to be taken seriously. Even after studies convinced oil executives the refinery was doable, they still balked at supporting it because Black figures it’s just not profitable enough for them.
Instead, he went went east and sought out the likely end users – the Chinese – who have agreed to provide the financial backing.
Still, said Black, the federal government has done little to support his plan which kind of surprises him considering the refinery would support about 3,000 jobs, plus another 6,000 indirect jobs.
“They want a big company and that’s what I’m trying to organize,” Black said.
Vic Goodman of Rivercorp asked how Campbell River could support the plan and Black said the best thing would be the support of city council, especially if they sent a letter to Conservative MP John Duncan.
Black added that Kitimat is endorsing the refinery project and several communities are saying no to shipping bitumen.
“I think it would help if Campbell River did that too,” he said.