Federal NDP energy critic Peter Julian appreciates David Black's contribution to the ongoing pipeline debate, but isn't sold on his proposal to build a refinery in Kitimat.
Black, owner of Black Press, which publishes the Burnaby NewsLeader, last week proposed building a $13-billion refinery to process the oil sands bitumen that would be delivered by Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
While the pipeline is aimed at exporting bitumen to refineries in China, Black asserts his plan would create up to 3,000 refinery jobs in B.C. It would also reduce the environmental risk posed by tanker spills, since much of any spilled gasoline or diesel would evaporate, in contrast to heavy bitumen, which sinks and ultimately suffocates everything on the ocean floor.
While financing is not in place, Black has said he will pay the several million dollars it will cost to take the proposal through the environmental assessment process, to act as a catalyst for the project.
But Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said even with the refinery proposal attached, the risks of the Northern Gateway project still outweigh the benefits.
"Mr. Black has been known as a supporter of Northern Gateway. The fact he's now talking about value-added is I think a very important point because what we're seeing is more and more Canadians coming to the realization, as the NDP has been proposing, that we can't develop our economy if what we do is export raw minerals, raw logs and raw bitumen," he said.
"It certainly doesn't change our position on Northern Gateway," he stressed. The environmental risks of the pipeline project threatens thousands of jobs in the tourism and fishing industries.
Julian also called Black's business plan "very questionable."
In addition to financing not being in place, he noted that China has said it wants raw bitumen to feed its own refineries. That leaves the market for any refined products not yet clearly defined.
He also doesn't like the fact that, to make the construction of the refinery economical, Black is proposing having components built offshore and shipped in for assembly in Kitimat, something Julian considers a loss of value-added and high tech jobs for B.C.
"So we question the business plan, but we welcome the debate," Julian said. "We need a whole new debate around energy and natural resources in this country."
Canada has lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years since the Conservatives came to power, he said. "We really need a new strategy in terms of maximizing the benefit of our resources."
And certainly the fact Black agrees with the NDP on the need for more value-added jobs is welcome.
"I think it's important that he's raised the issue of value-added, definitely," Julian said. "I don't think the project is the appropriate response for that."
Julian also agrees with Black on the need to pursue innovations in "green refining" and sees an opportunity for Canada to become a leader in more environmentally-conscious refineries.
But he doesn't believe negative public opinion on the Northern Gateway pipeline is salvageable due to concerns over the environmental risks, particularly after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recently criticized how Enbridge handled a major 2010 bitumen spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
"I don't think the Kitimat refinery proposal is going to shift public opinion in terms of Northern Gateway," Julian said. "I think that ship has already sailed, people have made up their minds about it."