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VANCOUVER — The backers of a bitumen refinery project in northwestern British Columbia believe their made-in-B.C. recipe for getting oil out of landlocked Alberta will win over skeptics.
Other high-profile energy projects – such as Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline – remain stalled amid widespread opposition in B.C., but officials at Pacific Future Energy say their solution is to build a refinery to address fears about tankers spilling oil into the Pacific Ocean.
While the Northern Gateway proposal calls for loading unrefined heavy oil into tankers for export from Kitimat, Pacific Future Energy is seeking to build an $11.4-billion (U.S.) refinery near Prince Rupert that would turn Alberta bitumen into products such as gasoline and diesel.
Stockwell Day, the former federal international trade minister who is now Pacific Future Energy’s senior adviser, argues that Enbridge isn’t able to win a social licence for Northern Gateway because the pipeline proposal is tainted by the risk of oil spills from Asia-bound tankers.
Pacific Future Energy is casting Enbridge as an Alberta-centric company that has underestimated British Columbians’ opposition to oil tankers.
In a worst-case scenario of a Northern Gateway oil spill in waters off the West Coast, it will be catastrophic to the environment because bitumen will sink and coat the ocean floor, killing marine life and ruining the ecosystem, Mr. Day said in an interview. But if tankers leak refined petroleum products into the ocean, there would be much less harm because gasoline and diesel fuel will float and evaporate, making cleanup much easier, he said.
Mr. Day represented Pacific Future Energy during a trip last week to Asia. In a slide presentation to prospective investors overseas, Mr. Day and Pacific Future Energy chief executive officer Robert Delamar touted the refinery plan while pointing out what they see as Northern Gateway’s shortcomings.
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