With the American market shrinking, more pipeline capacity is needed to ship Alberta oilsands products to Asia, Suncor Energy senior advisor Tracey Wolsey told a Northern Gateway community advisory board meeting on Friday.
Wolsely, who handles B.C. stakeholder relations for the oilsands giant, told a lunch hour audience at the Coast Inn of the North that increasing U.S. oil production means it's important for Canadian producers to find new markets.
Wolsey focused her presentation on this history of Suncor, how oilsands operations have changed over time and what technological innovations the industry is working on.
Suncor is one of the funding partners behind the Northern Gateway plan to ship oilsands products via pipeline from northern B.C. to Kitimat where they will be exported to Asia to be refined and used.
When asked by a member of the audience why more oilsands products can't be refined closer to home, she said the business case for refineries often includes them being close to where the products will be used.
"Historically refineries are very expensive and are located closer to where your markets are," she said in an interview, noting many refineries in North America have closed in recent decades because they were no longer economically feasible. "I don't see that changing so for us transportation of crude is very easy and it's the way we've generally done it and then you refine it closer to where people buy the finished products."
Some of the opposition for the Northern Gateway project has been on economic grounds, with people wondering if more value should be added to the bitumen before it's exported.
"I think all Canadians would like to see more of our natural resources upgraded in Canada, sometimes it doesn't make sense to send out a loaf of bread instead of the wheat," Wolsey said.
Northern Gateway set up the community advisory boards to get feedback from people in the region who are in favour of, neutral or against their plan.
Friday's event marked the 17th meeting for the Prince George-based board and Wolsey was invited to speak at the behest of board members.
Enbridge vice-president for western access Janet Holder said the advisory board process has exceeded the company's expectations.
"Our purpose was to bring people together to have a chance to ask questions, understand about who we are and what the project is about," she said. "It really is driven by the communities and what we get to learn is what concerns them so we can help address those."
Environmental assessment hearings for Northern Gateway wrapped up in June and a National Energy Board Joint Review Panel isn't expected to issue recommendations until late December. In the meantime Holder has been crisscrossing the province to meet with communities about the pipeline.
"People have more of an interest in engaging with us than they've had in the past, which to me is positive because it's the dialogue we need to have," Holder said, adding it's difficult to tell if opposition to the project is lessening.