David Black lays out refinery plans

  • Aug. 28, 2015 5:00 a.m.

In 2012 David Black, owner of Black Press, made the surprising announcement that he proposed to build a refinery 25-kilometres north of Kitimat to handle Enbridge’s flow of bitumen out out of Alberta’s oil sands. The proposal has received criticism from both the oil industry and concerned residents on the North Coast. But Mr.Black insists it’s of vital importance to process the oil into far less hazardous fuels, than allow tankers to ship bitumen through these waters. The Kitimat Clean oil refinery will require 550,000 barrels of oil per day to produce 460,000 barrels of diesel, jet fuel and gasoline, create up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and add $1-billion to the tax base.These plans are far from realized, while even the method of shipping oil to the refinery hasn’t been decided. In fact, Mr. Black says if a safe method of transportation can’t be found he is prepared to abandon the proposal. Earlier this month during a sailing trip up the coast and over to Haida Gwaii, Mr. Black visited Queen Charlotte and agreed to an interview with the Haida Gwaii Observer to discuss his plans and elaborate on his motivation behind them. Observer: What motivated you to propose this?Black: I got involved not to make money, or because I want to change careers at this point in my lifeÂ…I got involved to keep the bitumen oil out of the tankers. I sail up an down the coast all the time. I love this coast. I saw what the Exxon Valdez did – and that was just light oil, medium-light oil. It floated. It’s guaranteed to float. They just pushed it off the beach with water hoses, and they worked at it for four years to clean it up. Two-billion dollars, and it peaked with 11,000 guys working on it, 1,400 boats and they got back seven per cent of it. That’s all they got. Bitumen is entirely the opposite – it’s terrible! Half of it’s going to sink within the first hour if you get a big spill, and tankers are big; they carry two-million barrels. The spill up in Alaska was 250,000 barrels. Just think if we lost a full tanker of bitumen. We would destroy the coast for 1,000 years, and the fishery.A lot of it will sink to the bottom. We won’t know where it’s gone, because it will slip beneath the surface and the tidal currents will carry it away. Even if we did know where it’s gone, we don’t have the technology to get it back. It’s going to pave the ocean floor. The other half will pave the inter-tidal zone, from the mud flats right up to the tops of the beaches and the rocks. Then it will harden up like heavy tar or asphalt. We’ve got no way to move it. Observer: They used steam in Alaska.Black: Well, that’s what we learned from the Valdez – don’t use steam. You’re removing the oil, but also what you’re doing is killing all the animals, all the vegetation, and you leave a sterile zone. You don’t know what’s going to come in and repopulate the area. It’s a Hobson’s choice, you knowb – use steam and create a sterile zone, or just leave it for a long, long time.Observer: So oil shipments are out. What are you are proposing instead?Black: In my opinion, you don’t want diluted bitumen at all around here. You don’t want conventional oil either. I mean, how many [Coast Guard] boats do the Feds have? Three? And they’re all down in Vancouver. I don’t trust them. I’m with the people here. I say, let’s not have any oil tankers.The beauty of putting in a refinery is you put out three things – diesel, jet fuel and gasoline. Gasoline is the lightest; it floats and it evaporates in two days. You can go online and see all kinds of studies. We’ve seen the evidence with spills also. Jet fuel floats and evaporates in one week. Diesel evaporates in two weeks. We had a decent-sized diesel spill down on Robson’s Bite down in Johnson Strait around 2007. The headlines spoke about this big disaster that occurred, but in the second week, aircraft were reporting killer whales swimming through the area. By the end of the second week it was totally gone, and no one did any remediation. At one point it was five-kilometres long and then it just evaporated. Now it’s not perfect. It’s not like spilling water. You’re going to leave behind some toxins, but it’s not going to kill the animals and the birds. It’s not going to leave a mess on the foreshore or bugger up the clams and the fishery for the rest of our life. Observer: It sounds like your intention is to lessen the impacts of a potential spill. You’re not necessarily pushing to establish an industy in the North. Black: No, I am. You see, when I started looking into this and I realized how benign an oil refinery is for us, I started thinking, ‘OK, how are we going to get the oil there in a safe fashion?’ Everyone in the industry told me that modern pipelines are safe. Well, we just had a spill from a modern pipeline, the Nexen. So I think that’s debatable and we have to do more research. I don’t necessarily believe what the industry is telling us.But the other option, what they’re using a lot of in the States, is rail. When they ship bitumen through pipelines, they have to dilute it 30 per cent, and that creates a slur. In train cars, they want to reduce the costs as much as possible. So what they’re doing is diluting it as little as possible – by about four or five per cent. The odds are, if you have a derailment, you’re not going to get a lot of spillage because it’s gel-like, much easier to clean up. That’s what I’m hearing, but I have yet to see the proof in that. So those are the options we’re looking at, but I don’t know. I don’t want to have my name associated with a spill.What does the oil industry think of your proposal?They don’t want to put any money in it. They don’t want to be in the refining business. They – I get a mixed reviews. Some of the presidents of the big companies say it’s a great idea – one of the presidents said it was the best idea he’s heard in a long time; it’s nation building. But no one in Calgary is going to do it, because almost everyone in Calgary is owned by a multinational based elsewhere in the world. So nation building for Canada is not on their radar. [Their plans] aren’t good for us. Observer: You’ve toured around for a lot of consultations. What’s been the reaction to all this?Black: I’ve met all the Chiefs from here to Prince George. What I’m telling them is, ‘Let’s work together on this. Let’s figure this out. If we can find a safe way to do this, put some money in everyone’s pocket, then let’s go ahead. If we can’t, let’s abandon it.’ Everyone’s said, ‘that makes sense to us.’ Nobody’s saying ‘no.'”Observer: The Council of the Haida Nation is saying no. Black: I’ll work on it. I think I’m seeing eye to eye with these guys. Observer: And you’re completely prepared to abandon this project?Black: Absolutely. Look, I’m trying to find a solution. Because here’s what I worry about: Industry and government just override what the people here want. This is worth a fortune to Canada, to Canadians. And they [government and industry] might wake up one day and say, ‘you know, we’re not going to let a few thousand people decide this for us. We’re going to do it anyway [without the pipeline].’ And there’s nothing we can do. You don’t need permits to put this stuff on the trains. They’ve already been approved for oil tankersÂ…so they might just wake up one day and go ahead with it. Bugger you all.I think that’s the problem of just saying ‘no’ without real logic behind it. You’re better off to find a solution that works for everyone.

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