Op-ed: Green refineries better alternative than tankers

David Black, majority owner of Black Press Group Ltd., writes about air quality, ocean health and speedy spill clean-up

By David Black

Despite the recent federal promise of extra funding for marine spill response, I completely agree with the 30 environmental organizations who claimed last month that carrying diluted bitumen in tankers along B.C.’s coast should not be allowed.

No one in the world has ever recovered even 15 per cent of a conventional crude oil spill, let alone a bitumen spill. For example, Exxon worked for four years, using up to 11,000 people and 1,400 boats, to try to clean up the Valdez Alaska conventional crude spill and recovered only seven per cent of it.

Conventional crude oil floats, theoretically at least, can be vacuumed or scooped up. Diluted bitumen on the other hand does not float in water that is loaded with plankton and sediment, as our coast is.

The federal government’s own research shows that half of any diluted bitumen spill will sink to the bottom in the first hour. We have no technology to get it back. None! Much of the rest will end up on the mudflats, sandbars and shoreline like asphalt.

Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are good well-run companies that build and try hard to operate safe pipelines. However, governments would be irresponsible to risk our ocean, our shoreline and our fishery by allowing them to put diluted bitumen in tankers. Kinder Morgan’s existing old pipeline, which was converted to carrying diluted bitumen for tanker export four years ago, should also not be used anymore for that purpose.

Get to market a better way

Saying no to the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain projects does not prevent Canada from getting its oil resources to markets in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in a clean ecological way.

All we have to do is build safe bitumen pipelines or transport solid bitumen safely by rail, and operate green B.C. export refineries. (Export refineries cannot be built in Alberta because they must be near the ocean to be economic.)

In the process, we will achieve enormous value-add benefits. Tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars of new taxes will be generated.

Protect the ocean

More importantly, we will protect our ocean because the products produced by green refineries, gasoline and diesel fuel float and evaporate if spilled. Gasoline disappears within two days and diesel within two weeks.

As cases in point, the diesel released during the Queen of the North grounding and sinking in 2006 at Gil Island south of Prince Rupert, and the 15-kilometre diesel slick created when a barge sank in 2007 near Robson Bight, evaporated in less than two weeks.

The diesel from a recent grounding of a tug in Bella Bella is also evaporating two weeks after it is reaching the surface. Unfortunately, seepage from the tug is ongoing and lubricant oils that don’t evaporate are also being released.

While it is impossible to clean up a spill at sea of crude oil or diluted bitumen, a spill of refined fuels is far easier to deal with and often requires little or no remediation.

Reduce CO2 emissions

Equally importantly, if we build new green refineries we can avoid much of the carbon dioxide emitted by all existing refineries. Engineers estimate an economically viable green B.C. refinery will save at least 23 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions. That is the equivalent of taking five million Canadian cars off the road.

Why ship our raw resources offshore and make it easy for foreign companies to degrade the planet using older technology? By keeping refineries in our backyard and ensuring they are green we will become ecological stewards for the earth.

In fact, if the producers in Alberta, who are currently working hard to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions, are able to clean up the extraction process, we will have the cleanest petroleum industry in the world.

Green B.C. refineries solve problems

Most of us agree that we must find a way to solve ecological issues and enable production at the same time, or our quality of life and our ability to protect the environment will spiral down. In this case, green B.C. export refineries are the answer; tankers carrying diluted bitumen are not.

David Black is the president and owner of Kitimat Clean Ltd. which proposes to build an oil refinery near Kitimat, a project to add value to Canada’s natural resources for export in an environmentally responsible manner. He is also the chairman and majority owner of Black Press Group Ltd. which owns a chain of community newspapers and websites, including BCLocalNews.com.

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