Saturday, 9 March 2013

Refinery in BC?

B.C. newspaper mogul David Black has a group of investors who have committed financing to build a $25-billion oil refinery project on our province's northern coast. A deal that would be one of the largest private developments in B.C. history and perhaps put to rest some of the concerns environmentalists have for the danger of piping chemical added bitumen through our pristine wilderness. And the best part is that it could be done through rail cars!
Alberta tar sands

To get the Alberta tar sands bitumen through a pipeline, they have to add chemicals and heat to make it liquid enough to pump. The exact composition of these chemicals, collectively called diluents, is considered a trade secret. And the diluents vary depending on the particular type of dilbit being produced.

It is suggested that diluted bitumen – also known as dilbit – leads to higher risks of pipeline fractures and consequently oil spills. Pipelined bitumen needs higher temperatures to maintain viscosity and thus flow which in turn leads to faster corrosion of the line. 
Chemicals need to be added to the butimen to make it liquid enough to pump. Tixture often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen. But the pipeline companies do not reveal exactly what other chemicals are used.  
Transporting it by rail could change that whole process! The dangers of a spill are limited to the rail cars that could be derailed. And the product spilled would be far less liquified if at all!

The refinery within Canada would also mean not shipping that heavy bitumen through our northern waters. The Marshal spill on the Kalamazoo river required gathering the bottom sediment of the river and disposing of it. A task near impossible in BC's deep fjords. Spilled bitumen settling on the bottom could prove to destroy the seabed and waters for wildlife and growth for centuries or forever!  

And the costs of cleanup could be crippling because Enbridge is evasive on saying what portion insurance will cover if a spill occurs. Or who would assume the risk of high insurance premiums? It is suspected that the taxpaying public may have to cover costs. This to me is a non starter. The average cleanup cost of every crude oil spill from the past 10 years was $2,000 per barrel. The Marshall spill has cost upwards of $29,000 per barrel! And that was in a relatively small, slow flowing river.

the bitumen product
Mr. Black recently suggested he could make it all work without any Northern Gateway pipeline at all, by using rail cars alone. (We currently have dedicated steady lines of coal cars destined for the Roberts Bank coal port) Thus eliminating the need for chemically diluting the product until it actually reached the refinery. There have been many who say we need to refine the product ourselves, and sell the value added product, instead of sending the resource out of the country and buying back the high priced result. Just like shipping raw logs to other country's mills and having to buy lumber from them at a huge profit to those foreigners! A new technically green designed refinery would be a constant source of future revenue in spite of development costs, and make us self sufficient in that energy resource.

There are also many buyers who would rather deal with Canada than a foreign country for refined product. The refinery and all its accoutrements will be 100 per cent B.C. owned, Black said. That in itself is a big plus in the argument for control of a resource that will inevitably be sold no matter what. 

There is an alternative and this continuing development will be interesting to watch.

1 comment:

  1. Yes it will. Enbridge seems to be working as if their pipeline is already approved. I bet they know Harper will interject and force it through. But it won't be easy when another idea is in the mix too. Going to be interesting to see what the NDP will do too. Nice article.


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