The beleaguered Northern Gateway pipeline proposal got a big boost on Friday from an unexpected source.
Newspaper mogul David Black's $13 billion plan to build a refinery near the pipeline's planned terminus in Kitimat could end up providing B.C. with some of the benefits its been seeking and reduce some of the environmental fears surrounding the marine aspect of the pipeline.
Black's concept -- a refinery capable of processing the diluted bitumen from Alberta into gasoline and diesel for export to Asian markets -- could generate about 6,000 jobs for the five-year construction phase and another 3,000 permanent full-time jobs when it's operational.
If built, it would nullify the complaint that the pipeline would be used to ship Canada's raw resources overseas.
"It adds a potential dynamic that could bring far more value," Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell said. "The vast majority of people I talk to want to see more value-added in B.C."
Calgary-based Enbridge is hoping to build a pipeline to connect Alberta's oilsands with Kitimat, but it has been beset by opposition from environmental, First Nations and community groups. Spills and leaks in pipelines in other jurisdictions has eroded the company's credibility in some circles, although Enbridge does boast that 99.999 per cent of the oil going through its network arrives at the destination without incident.
Although Bell said news of the refinery proposal was positive, his political opponents didn't see the development in the same light. The NDP, a staunch opponent to the pipeline, said adding a refinery would do little to change their view.
The proposal brought forward by David Black is certainly ambitious, but it is unclear whether he will be able to commandeer the supply of oil from Enbridge and the foreign partners involved in the Northern Gateway Project, NDP energy critic John Horgan said in a news release. It remains to be seen whether its a pipe dream or if it is a credible plan with realistic price tags and capacity.
The B.C. government hasn't jumped on board with the Northern Gateway project either, but it did provide a framework last month for what it would take for them to approve the $6 billion plan. The conditions the province brought forward included stringent environmental safeguards, involvement of First Nations and more of a financial benefit for the province.
Although the refinery appears to ease some of those concerns, Enbridge wasn't in a celebratory mood on Friday, at least not judging by their public statement.
"Enbridge Northern Gateway remains committed to the regulatory process reviewing our application for the project," the company said in a brief news release. "The formal hearings as part of the Joint Review Panel process are set to begin Sept. 4 where issues related to the project are to be reviewed in public and in detail."
Bell said the government has been in discussions with Black for quite some time and he's pleased the news is now public. He said having a third refinery in addition to current facilities in Prince George and Burnaby would add much needed capacity, but he cautioned Black would need to prove the facility would meet environmental standards.
"It would have significant standards placed on it to make sure it's world class," he said.
Black said he's hoping to get the official environmental review for the refinery underway soon.
The refinery has the potential of lessening some of the marine risks in the event of a tanker spill as both gasoline and diesel are less harmful to the environment than heavy crude oil. However, a spill would still have negative impacts, particularly on shellfish.
"Fish would be little affected and the gas would mostly evaporate in two days," Black said. "Local heavy rainfall would help rinse the shore off in this part of the world and normal life would come back fairly quickly."
Marine toxicologist and pipeline opponent Riki Ott acknowledged a spill of refined products wouldn't be as long lasting as a crude spill, but she said the consequences would still be substantial.
"Just on the surface the diesel and the gas have a shorter term toxic hit and less of a more long-term hit," she said. "That hit alone is significant and very disruptive to people and it still makes people sick."
Ott is also concerned about the health impact of dispersants used in other jurisdictions to clean up spills of refined products.
The refinery doesn't change the risk of a spill for the inland portion of the pipeline, which will carry the heavy crude to Kitimat. Enbridge announced plans last month to use thicker pipes and have more staffed pumping stations, but whether or not that will meet the province's standards has yet to be determined.
The province and other interveners will have the chance to cross-examine Enbridge on its plans beginning Sept. 4.