David Black is taking a step back to see how legal challenges to the Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal plays out as he continues to develop his plan for an oil refinery near Kitimat.
Since the Joint Review Panel released its recommendation in favour of the pipeline proposal, subject to 209 conditions, there have been some challenges from environmental groups and the Haisla.
As reported in the January 29 Sentinel, the Haisla filed a claim to the Federal Court of Appeal on January 17 to block an approval on the pipeline. Both the Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay, located at the mouth of the Douglas Channel, and the Gitxaala Nation of Kitkatla north of Prince Rupert have filed similar suits.
To Black challenges like these could put friction on his refinery dream.
“It will slow everything down a few years and it may be that some of the First Nations won’t be interested in supporting a different pipeline until that one grounds through its legal process. If that’s the case it puts everything off a few years,” he said.
That said his refinery is not necessarily hinged on a pipeline’s construction, although that is his preferred means to supply the refinery. He says rail is an alternative, albeit one he’s not keen on pursuing.
“It could come that way. I’d hate to see it, personally, because it’s not very safe,” he said about rail transport.
Black is still retaining his characteristic optimism about the project though.
He said he’s still working on funding and customer deals with potential clients in China, and says he doesn’t see any major roadblocks ahead.
“I’ve been talking to a variety of other stakeholders from politicians to First Nations chiefs, and so on. It just keeps moving along,” he said.
That said, he’s so far not been successful in securing loan guarantees from the federal government, an option he was pursuing after some initial backers to his refinery said he had to raise a certain percentage in Canada. To get that local backing he had hoped to get loan guarantees.
“I haven’t been able to move that ball very far yet,” he said.
Black continues to believe in the safety of pipeline development, and thinks a pipeline could be built safely to bring the diluted bitumen to his refinery.
It’s the marine traffic where he has a big problem, and is among the reasons he wants a refinery, to allow shipments of less toxic materials.
“It’s pretty awful,” he said of a potential spill of bitumen at sea.
He said a bitumen spill would be worse than the Exxon Valdez spill.
He points out that the Valdez spills was medium to light oil, and not bitumen.
And bitumen, recent environmental reports have pointed out, will sink when mixed with sediments.
With tidal currents the bitumen could sink and spread and no one would know where it went.
“And even if we did know where it went we couldn’t get it back up,” he said.
He said experts have suggested that about 10 per cent of the Exxon spill was cleaned up, and that’s with a material that floats, Black said.
The merit of a west coast refinery has been recognized by members even in the Green Party.
MLA Andrew Weaver, for Oak Bay-Gordon Head on Vancouver Island, stated in a Georgia Straight article from February 5 that the refinery is being proposed for “the right reasons” and that it has merit.
The statements did stir some people in the province, but Black, who is actually a constituent of Weaver, didn’t take it as an outright endorsement.
“I don’t know he’s really endorsed it yet, but I think he’s said publicly on the radio a few times that if we are going to be shipping oil we should be shipping refined fuel,” said Black. “It’s just way safer.”
Weaver spent a few days touring the Kitimat area in December and saw the proposed area of the refinery.
He didn’t say much about the refinery at the time, but did say concerns about marine traffic and bitumen on the ocean are felt in the Lower Mainland as they are up here.
“If that stuff gets out into the environment your beautiful [Douglas Channel] will not be beautiful much longer,” he told the Sentinel in December.
He did say the overall feeling he got about the refinery locally in Kitimat was that people felt positive about it. But he did attempt to temper optimism in reality.
“I think the expectations have to be met and it’s not clear to me that anything is going to happen for sure.”
David Black is the founder and Chairman of Black Press, the company which owns a number of community newspapers, including the Kitimat Northern Sentinel.