Black Press publisher David Black in 2016. (File photo)

Renewed interest in Kitimat oil refinery plan

Publisher David Black pitches Rachel Notley on B.C. coast option

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s invitation for proposals to build new refinery capacity has renewed interest in a new-generation oil refinery proposed for the Kitimat area.

Black Press publisher David Black wrote to Notley Monday to pitch his Kitimat Clean project, arguing that only a coastal refinery is a viable way to add to the province’s capacity to export refined fuels.

“Unfortunately the refinery cannot be located inland,” wrote Black, who has developed a refinery design that could be supplied with heavy crude by rail or pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands.

“The capital cost to build a large, brand-new refinery inland is so high that it is never economically viable. That is why all major export refineries in the world are located on an ocean coast.”

LNG Canada’s natural gas export facility at Kitimat plans to use processing modules built and shipped from Asia, and any new refinery in B.C. would be expected to use the same approach.

Notley called for “expressions of interest” last week for new refining capacity, as the Alberta oil industry struggles with lack of pipeline capacity and a depressed price for its oil exports in the only available export market, the U.S.

Alberta already has four heavy oil upgraders and four refineries, including the Sturgeon Refinery near Edmonton, the first to be built in the province in more than 30 years.

With the Northern Gateway and Energy East oil pipelines cancelled and Trans Mountain’s expansion project to Burnaby held up by a court decision, Notley has searched for alternatives including rail and new refining to break out of the political landlock that has surrounded the Alberta oil sands.

With the cancellation of the Northern Gateway project and the federal government poised to pass more restrictions on environmental assessment of energy projects, the focus has shifted to rail transport of crude oil. In addition to Notley’s declared intention to buy more conventional oil tanker rail cars, transporting bitumen in solid form called “neatbit” has been explored to reduce the risk of spills on land.

Black’s Kitimat refinery plan attracted a copycat bid from Pacific Future Energy, whose directors include former Canadian trade minister Stockwell Day and former Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo.

Pacific Future has borrowed Kitimat Clean’s approach of using a new oil refining technique that avoids production of petroleum coke, reducing the greenhouse gas impact compared to conventional heavy oil refining.

Backers of another Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline proposal, Eagle Spirit Energy, were in Ottawa last week to call for the Trudeau government to cancel its pending legislation that would ban crude oil tankers from docking on B.C.’s North Coast, effectively blocking crude exports to Asia.

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