Premier Christy Clark surprised the opposition Thursday with a statement in the B.C. legislature endorsing a proposed heavy oil refinery near Kitimat.
Clark emphasized that the project would be subject to the five conditions about environmental safety and aboriginal consultation that she has demanded for heavy oil pipelines. But she praised the job creation potential and added that a refinery would help supply the “fair share” of benefits for B.C. that is her most controversial condition.
David Black, owner of the Black Press newspaper group in B.C., Alberta and the U.S., set up a separate company called Kitimat Clean Ltd. last year to develop the refinery plan and seek permits from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. Black announced this week that he is finalizing details for $25 billion in financing and purchase agreements for the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that the plant would produce.
“Our government takes the view that we should work together to address legitimate environmental and safety concerns and find a way to get to yes on projects that will grow our economy,” Clark said, adding that the B.C. government has been working with Black’s team to secure a suitable site.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman said there is Crown land in the Kitimat area held in an industrial reserve that could be leased or sold to the company for use of the land.
Black’s proposal specifies a 3,000-hectare site 25 km north of Kitimat that is on the proposed route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. With capacity to process all the pipeline carries, it would be one of the largest refineries in the world.
Black said this week he is pessimistic about the prospects for Enbridge, but the refinery could bring in Alberta oil sands crude by rail, or another pipeline acceptable to aboriginal groups along the route. Rail transport would require six trains a day, but he said no permits are required and CN Rail is willing to do it.
The $16 billion refinery would require another $9 billion in construction, including six product pipelines to Douglas Channel to load ships with refined fuel, and a natural gas pipeline to produce power, fire refining equipment and supply hydrogen for a new process to refine heavy oil.
NDP energy critic John Horgan said he plans to meet with Black next week, but he was dismissive of Clark’s endorsement.
“I think it’s important that the public understands that this is a long, long way into the future,” Horgan said. “And for a government that’s down to 68 days left in its mandate before people vote again, it seems odd to me that we would have taken time in the legislature today to read a press release about a proposal that may not happen until after the next election.”
Black estimates that environmental assessment will take up to two years, and the refinery could be up and running by 2020.