Vancouver Sun – Opinion: Refining lets us control our oil

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By Stockwell Day, Special to the Vancouver Sun August 28, 2014

Canada has a problem. We are blessed with a resource — oil — needed by people around the world but we’re selling 99 per cent of that resource to one customer, the United States. We’re selling it at a significant discount. We do this because it’s what the pipeline infrastructure in North America obliges us to do.

Expanding access for Canadian oil products to new markets, especially those with growing demand in Asia, is the clear solution. This is becoming increasingly important as we experience declining demand in the U.S. due to increased self-sufficiency in its market.

I have been an advocate in the past for a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific, allowing us to export our bitumen to these fast-growing markets in Asia. Canada’s economy loses billions of dollars every year simply because one of our most important strategic resources is in a captive market.

But many British Columbians — and many others across the country — have expressed deep concerns to me about a number of issues associated with building a pipeline and shipping unrefined bitumen off of Canada’s West Coast. They have convinced me there must be a better alternative.

That’s why I have joined Pacific Future Energy, a new company based in Vancouver. The company’s mission is to build the greenest oil refinery in the world in a manner that respects First Nations consultation and accommodation, provides tangible economic benefits for Canadians, and protects Canada’s West Coast from the threat of a bitumen spill.

Many First Nations feel resource discussions do not always recognize and respect their role in the process. From the beginning, and every step of the way, our partnership with First Nations will ensure we all benefit from traditional and ecological knowledge, while respecting their rights to full consultation and accommodation, all with the goal of shared prosperity and health for future generations.

Many First Nations communities and British Columbians have grave concerns about the impact of a raw bitumen spill along Canada’s West Coast.

Bitumen sinks to the bottom of the ocean and would cause long-lasting devastation. Refined products evaporate within a short period, posing a much smaller risk.

The livelihoods of commercial and recreational fishermen, loggers, tourism operators, as well as indigenous peoples’ ways of life that go back thousands of years, would be irrevocably altered if a bitumen spill were to occur.

To see something as important as the future of our energy industry not rooted in respect and recognition of those issues would not be acceptable to me.

Building the world’s greenest refinery isn’t just good public policy, however. It’s also good business.

Many critics of building Canadian refineries see the world through the prism of multinational companies with global networks of refineries, shareholders, supply routes and investment priorities that are often beyond our borders. Their assertion that a new refinery in Canada can’t make a profit is simply not backed by economic realities.

Dozens of refineries in the U.S. Midwest — which are almost exclusively processing Canadian bitumen sent to them by pipelines — are generating an average profit of $23.50 per barrel by refining Canadian crude into products for sale in the U.S.

The economics of refining are so good, the one per cent of Canadian crude not sent to the U.S. last year was piped across the continent to the Gulf of Mexico, put on ships, carried across the Atlantic Ocean and delivered to Bilbao, Spain. There it was refined and sold on the European markets at a profit.

These are dollars and jobs that could and should be realized in Canada. Moreover, refining our hydrocarbon resources allows us to ensure all possible steps are taken to minimize the impact these resources have on the environment. Even the industry’s harshest critics would agree that selling high-efficiency products, refined in Canada, is far better than simply shipping raw bitumen out of the country.

The only viable solution for the problems facing Canada’s oil industry is to expand to new markets. The way to make this acceptable to a great number of Canadians — especially First Nations — will be through a refinery that delivers jobs and economic benefits for Canadians, while protecting our coast at the same time.

Stockwell Day is a former minister of international trade, treasurer and acting premier of Alberta, and Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, and is now the chair of Pacific Future Energy’s advisory board, as well as a senior adviser to the company’s management team.

© Copyright (c) Special to the Vancouver Sun

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