Green MLA bets on Black

Media mogul David Black has an unlikely ally in his quest to build a new oil refinery near Kitimat.

Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said the idea of taking Alberta oil and refining it in B.C. may be the best compromise available to limit environmental concerns, while at the same time give the Canadian oil industry access to new markets. Rather than opposing every plan to ship Canadian energy products offshore, Weaver said the pragmatic approach is to support the projects that provide the most local and regional benefits.

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"I like to think the Green Party as a science-based, evidence-based common sense party," he said. "It's a party that realizes that we need gasoline in our cars but we also need to have a strategy to wean ourselves off that."

Black has pitched the idea of building Kitimat Clean, a $25 billion pipeline, refinery and export facility, which would allow for lighter petroleum products to be shipped off the north coast instead of heavier diluted bitumen. In the event of a spill, gasoline and diesel are much easier to clean up and have the potential to cause less environmental damage than dilbit.

Weaver said that while his preference would be to leave the oilsands energy in the ground until it's needed domestically, a Canadian refinery is the next best option.

"Rail is bad news, dilbit in the water is bad news, dilbit on land over rivers and streams is potentially very bad news," he said. "Obviously as the Green Party [MLA], I'd prefer to keep it in the ground as much as possible and start to invest sooner than later into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow, but I'm pragmatic and I recognize at some point one may need to develop a compromise and a compromise solution is one that would actually give jobs in B.C."

While Weaver doesn't think its appropriate for an MLA to endorse or advocate for a specific project, he's spoken to Black about the refinery plan and has liked what he's heard. In addition to bringing more jobs to B.C. and reducing the spill risk off the coast, Weaver said Black's idea of using a Fischer-Tropsch approach to make the plant run more efficiently and reduce greenhouse emissions is also environmentally conscious.

"I think he's done this for the right reasons," Weaver said. "He's a B.C. boy and he wants to keep dilbit out of coastal waters because it's nasty stuff. The man doesn't need another fortune, he really doesn't."

One change Weaver would like to see to Black's plan that would make it even more palatable is to have the bitumen upgraded in Alberta before it's shipped via pipeline through northern B.C. He said the upgraded synthetic crude, while still posing some environmental challenges, would be better than a diluted bitumen pipeline similar to the one proposed by Northern Gateway.

To succeed, Black's plan would require substantial investor backing plus the support of oilsands producers. It would also need to undergo an environmental review process.

Weaver said more importantly it would need support both from northern B.C. First Nations groups and other communities along the pipeline route and by the refinery and terminal.

Weaver said the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline didn't do that job properly and hence doesn't have the social lisence to proceed.

"As far as I'm concerned, the Northern Gateway project is dead," he said.

While on the surface a refinery may seem like an odd thing for a Green Party MLA to support, Weaver said finding positive solutions is important to encouraging environmental awareness and action.

"I'm sure there will be idealists who will be very upset," he said. "But you don't move society forward by only saying no to everything."

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