David Black hopes to build a $13 billion refinery to export processed fuels rather than raw oilsands bitumen to Asia.
VANCOUVER—A BC newspaper mogul has injected himself into the debate over the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, revealing a proposal for a $13-billion refinery to export processed fuels rather than oil-sands crude to Asia.
David Black’s plan prompted immediate skepticism from First Nations, politicians and observers. They noted the proposed refinery in Kitimat, BC, does nothing to solve the environmental concerns of the pipeline and pointed to Black’s own admissions that he has no investors, no confirmed buyers and no commitment from Northern Gateway proponent Enbridge to actually access the raw bitumen.
Still, the addition of Black—a high-profile businessman whose company Black Press Group Ltd. owns newspapers in Western Canada and the US—brings a new dimension to a debate that has consumed BC politics, and it could spark a renewed discussion about whether Canada should be refining Alberta crude itself.
“Do I think it will change the debate on the pipeline? Yes I think I do,” Black told reporters in Vancouver as he detailed his proposal.
“We all need to discuss this thing and make up our mind together, so I’m hoping this will jump start a change in the debate. Rather than just saying, ‘Can’t see anything in this for us, let’s say no,’ instead of that, let’s say, ‘How can we work with this, work it to our advantage, get a lot out of it and solve any potential problems at the same time?’”
Black said he’s preparing to submit a proposal for an environmental assessment that would see a massive, 10-square-kilometre facility in Kitimat on BC’s northern coast near the Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii. He plans to pay for the assessment but rely on investors to fund the refinery.
The facility, as Black envisions it, would be the final stop along the Northern Gateway pipeline between Alberta’s oil sands and the BC coast. Rather than shipping that crude oil to Asian markets to be processed, which is the current plan, Black wants to process it in BC into fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel.
Black said doing so would eliminate the need to transport oil sands bitumen—a thick, black substance similar to oily asphalt—along B.C.’s coast. Instead, he argued processed fuels are much safer because they quickly evaporate and would be easier to contain and clean up in the event of a spill.
He also said the project would create thousands of jobs—6,000 during construction and 3,000 when it’s up and running—and provide the provincial government with much-needed revenue.
Black said he’s raised the issue with Enbridge and the federal and provincial governments, but acknowledged he has so far received no formal support.
Enbridge released a statement that did little more than acknowledge Black’s proposal while noting the company is currently focused on ongoing National Energy Board hearings for the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“Mr. Black had shared details of his proposal to us for our information,” said the statement. “Our focus remains on the regulatory process reviewing our application for Northern Gateway.”
Black said he met with Premier Christy Clark nearly a year ago and has met with provincial officials on other occasions since then. Clark was on holiday and unavailable to confirm the details of that meeting, but her energy minister issued a statement saying he would like to know more.
“Like all major projects, this would have to successfully complete an environmental review. We look forward to learning more details about the proposal,” Rich Coleman said in the statement.