Green refinery pitches bitumen processing on BC coast
Pacific Future Energy’s refinery would be built with First Nations.
CALGARY — A Vancouver company is pitching a $10-billion oil sands refinery on BC’s north coast that aims to connect Alberta’s vast energy resources with Asian markets while avoiding some of the pitfalls others have encountered.
Pacific Future Energy Corp. says the refinery would be the “world’s greenest” and built in full partnership with BC First Nations, many of whom are vehemently opposed to proposals to ship crude to the West Coast for export.
Ottawa is expected to decide on one of those proposals: Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. One of the biggest concerns with that project is the fact that huge tankers full of diluted oil sands 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 BC 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 BC coast would make the Exxon Valdez disaster look like a “joke,” he said.
The Pacific Future leadership team includes venture capitalists and former provincial and federal government advisers. Salameh has experience financing and building telecommunications infrastructure for Mexican conglomerate Groupo Salinas.
BC 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 aims to include First Nations in the process from the get-go. One of Salameh’s first hires for the management team was Jeffrey Copenace, who was deputy chief of staff to former Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo and has worked with the Ontario and federal government on aboriginal issues.
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 further north 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 from there.
The company hopes a pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast will be built by the time the refinery is built seven to 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.
© 2014 The Canadian Press