The lesser of two evils

When I first heard local media tycoon David Black was proposing to build a $13-billion oil refinery in Kitimat, my initial thought was...

When I first heard that local media tycoon David Black was proposing to build a $13-billion oil refinery in Kitimat, my initial thought was: “Pity it’s not something more visionary, such as a wave, wind or solar farm, or even new battery technology that will give us freedom from fossil fuels.”

But, of course, Black is a businessman and not an eccentric billionaire, and when it comes to the lesser of two evils, I actually like his idea.

Before I continue, full disclosure: Black owns Monday Magazine. I’ve met him on several occasions (Christmas party, Belfry Theatre openings, etc.) and we have had some friendly chats about books, theatre and newspapers. He has never once interferred with the editorial content of the magazine nor told me what to write.

Firstly, from an environmental point of view, I’m still opposed to the proposed Enbridge pipeline that will send oilsand bitumen from Alberta to B.C. The logistics of it boggle my mind, but “if” the pipeline gets built, I would rather see that toxic sludge arrive at a Canadian-owned refinery to be processed than be loaded directly onto tankers lining our fragile coast.

Black’s proposal, which would be the first refinery built in Canada in 25 years, would have the capacity to process the entire output of the planned Enbridge pipeline, separating the diluent that makes oilsands bitumen flow and sending that product back to Edmonton via a second line. It would then be capable of processing 550,000 barrels per day of gasoline, diesel and kerosene. These processed fuels would be piped to waiting tankers, and although a spill would still be horrific for the environment, gasoline and diesel can evaporate at sea unlike a bitumen spill.

Black is also promising to make the refinery “the cleanest and greenest refinery in the world.” And while talk is cheap when it comes to making profit, I have a tendency to believe his sincerity on this. Whether or not his vision will be shared by his financial partners is another matter, and not even Black can make any guarantees on that score. When you ask people to chip in a few billion dollars, you’re not always guaranteed that their ethics match your own.

So here’s the lesser part of two evils: Canada gets jobs (up to 6,000 to build the refinery, and 3,000 permanent jobs thereafter), and our coastline stands a better chance of recovery if/when a spill happens.

It’s not a feel-good story with a happy ending (maybe the eccentric billionaire with visions of a clean, renewable energy source is still out there), but it is definitely a better option with more benefits for British Columbia and Canada than the current stand-alone pipeline proposal. M

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