Black’s Refinery Plan An Election Boost?

Amidst all the noise regarding David Black’s recent refinery proposal, don’t forget that it will satisfy Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for an oil pipeline across BC. Is this a proposal also built for an election?

David Black, a quietly classic newspaper baron known for his support of conservative political causes in BC, certainly stirred up a lot of fuss with his idea for a new oil refinery in Kitimat.

Most of it came from equally conservative  oil-i-garchs in Alberta, but there was plenty to go around in BC as well.

Black wants to build a refinery in Kitimat that would convert Alberta bitumen to gasoline. This, he believes, would mitigate many fears of oil tankers plying the coastline and threatening it with oil spills. Black says he has much of the financing in place, and will know in 60 days if the deal is possible.

What I find interesting is how the proposal has played in the snake pit that is energy policy and politics in this country.

The federal government desperately wants to get Alberta oil to Asia to fulfil its aim to make Canada a world energy power.

BC is almost universally against an Alberta-West Coast pipeline of raw bitumen to the coast and subsequent ferrying of the heavy oil in ships down the coastline. Premier Christy Clark flat out told Alberta that unless her five conditions were met, there would be no pipeline.  

Many energy spokesmen in Alberta pooh-pooh the idea, and want to ship the raw bitumen through BC via a pipeline — the cheapest and easiest method. If BC protests too much, they have floated the idea of piping it on an existing line that runs to Canada’s east coast, which would be more expensive, but wouldn’t have to go through the same permitting process.

And now here’s Black saying he’ll go with a pipeline but refine the oil so that gasoline-laden tankers can’t defile the coast if a spill occurs. (gasoline evaporates when it spills).

Black’s plan has several things going for it — it would certainly protect the coast, but more importantly, it would leave much of the money needed to refine the bitumen in Canada, thus fulfilling Canadian (and Clark’s) desire for a value-adding secondary industry from raw resources.

But, personally, I don’t think Black’s plan will go all the way to the end. There are too many forces — environmentalists, aboriginal groups, Alberta oilmen, federal desires to be a petro-nation, and Alberta’s insistence that it alone should control oil in this country — against it.

But, there’s another piece of this plan that may be important: Black is an ardent supporter of the BC Liberal party, which is involved in quite a fight with the NDP in the upcoming election. His proposal would satisfy Liberal leader Clark’s five conditions before BC approves a pipeline.

Could this refinery proposal be a lifeline for the embattled Clark government?  And if so, will it really matter?