Canadian Manufacturing

Pacific Future’s coastal refinery pitch answers spill concerns

The plan results in refined products rather than bitumen being shipped on tankers to Asia, reducing the damage from potential spills



CALGARY—A Vancouver company is pitching a $10-billion oilsands refinery on British Columbia’s north coast to connect Alberta’s vast energy resources with Asian markets while avoiding some of the dangers of a bitumen spill.

Pacific Future Energy Corp. says the refinery would be the “world’s greenest” and built in full partnership with B.C. First Nations, many of whom are vehemently opposed to proposals to ship crude to the West Coast for export.

Ottawa is soon expected to decide on one of those proposals: Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.

One of the biggest concerns with that project is that huge tankers full of diluted oilsands bitumen—or dilbit—would have to navigate the rough waters of the Douglas Channel on their way out into the Pacific.

The Pacific Future proposal, along with others being floated by B.C. newspaper magnate David Black and by aboriginal businessman Calvin Helin, would mean refined products rather than heavy oil would be shipped on tankers to Asia, making a potential spill much less environmentally damaging.

“I think everybody knows that it’s in Canada’s strategic national interest to increase and diversify oil production into Asia,” Pacific Future executive chairman Samer Salameh said in an interview.

“But I think everybody in their heart knows that shipping this dilbit is not the answer.”

A dilbit spill from a supertanker off the B.C. coast would make the Exxon Valdez disaster look like a “joke,” he said.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she’s recusing herself from the bitumen refinery discussions because her former husband, Mark Marissen, has been hired as Pacific Future’s executive vice-president of communications and research. Marrisen has consulted on major infrastructure projects and has worked as a political strategist.

Pacific Future plans to build a “near zero net carbon” refinery that will reuse waste products and prevent harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere.

The company says the refinery will be built in 200,000-barrel-per-day modules, with the ability to expand to a total of one million barrels per day.

Within six months, it expects to pick a location for the plant. It’s weighing one site near Kitimat and two near Prince Rupert. Safety concerns are causing Pacific Future to lean toward the latter, as it’s a shorter journey out to the open Pacific.

The company hopes a pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast will be built by the time the refinery is running, about nine years from now. But because the refinery can be expanded in increments, rail can be used to feed a smaller-scale facility in the beginning, Salameh said.

The Pacific Future plan is based on a similar premise to Black’s $32-billion Kitimat Clean Ltd. proposal, which would involve a refinery, oil pipeline, natural gas pipeline and tanker fleet. Kitimat Clean is asking Ottawa for a loan guarantee covering about a third of that amount.

In April, Helin, along with the Aquilini Investment Group, announced the Eagle Spirit Energy proposal, which would upgrade the oilsands crude into a lighter product in Alberta or northeastern B.C. before sending it by pipeline to the coast.

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