My name is David Black. I am the majority owner of Black Press, the company that owns this newspaper. This is the first of two columns addressing what I see as the greatest threat to the BC environment in our lifetime. I am a reasonably sensible and conservative businessman, not an alarmist. All of the information in this column can be confirmed from public sources.
The oil industry wants to export Alberta bitumen to Asia via tankers. Under no circumstances should we allow that to happen. A bitumen spill at sea could destroy our coastline, together with the fish and wildlife that depend on it, for hundreds of years.
Bitumen, even if it is diluted, does not float in sea water if there is sediment present. This has been proven many times, most recently in a thorough Environment Canada study published on November 30 2013. Page 51 of the study provides graphic evidence of sunken bitumen. Given that there is an abundance of sediment along the BC coast, the bitumen will sink rapidly and there will be little chance of recovering any of it if there is a spill. By Northern Gateway’s own admission the likelihood of a bitumen spill at sea is over 10 per cent over the next 50 years. Others say that it is much higher. We are in agreement with the position taken by the Coastal First Nations that even the slightest risk of a spill of bitumen at sea is unacceptable.
The grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 is often held up as an example of how bad an oil spill at sea can be, however, a spill of bitumen at sea would be much worse. The Exxon Valdez carried light crude and lost 250,000 barrels, one eighth of a tanker load. The light oil floated and could be removed from the beaches. Even so, after four years of work with up to 11,000 workers and 1,400 boats involved, less than 10% of it was recovered. Roughly 200,000 birds and many kinds of other wildlife were killed. Approximately 1,300 miles of shoreline were affected and the fishery has yet to fully recover. Bitumen is very different. It would harden up on shore and much of it would sink to the bottom, making it unrecoverable and killing virtually everything with which it came in contact. Imagine if we lost a full tanker load.
Some say that, with GPS-based navigation and double hulls, spills such as Exxon Valdez are not possible today. They are wrong. Double hulls do not prevent hull fracture if there is a collision at speed, only if there is a gentle scrape. As for the GPS claim, most marine accidents are caused by human inattention, not by a lack of knowledge about position. All ships carried systems to indicate their location before GPS came along. The Exxon Valdez crew could have glanced at their instruments to determine their location but they didn’t, neither did the crew on the Queen of the North. Marine disasters regularly occur and a quick search of the internet shows human error is most often the problem. Undoubtedly there will be many more marine accidents in future. Our grandchildren will not thank us if we willingly risk the destruction of the BC coast on our watch.
Fortunately there is a solution that is beneficial for all concerned: all we have to do is build a refinery at Kitimat. The refinery will convert the bitumen to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel which float and evaporate if they are spilled. Often little or no spill remediation is required. These refined fuels simply do not cause the habitat destruction of conventional or synthetic crude oil, or anywhere near the devastation caused by bitumen.
The second part of this OPED will run in the next issue. It will discuss the enormous value-add benefits and environmental advantages of a modern green refinery. The pipeline from Alberta and the tanker fleet to export the refined fuels will also be considered.
Let me declare my biases. I am for creating thousands of good permanent jobs in BC. I am for creating billions of new tax dollars for government coffers. I am for reducing the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. I am for building an oil pipeline that will never leak. I am for building a modern tanker fleet that carries only refined fuels that float and evaporate if spilled. I am against shipping bitumen in tankers.
If you agree that we should not put bitumen in tankers please contact your local MP and say so. The Canadian government makes a decision on this next month.
This is the second of two columns addressing what I see as the greatest threat to the BC environment in our lifetime.
The Alberta oil industry’s Northern Gateway plan is to export bitumen to Asia via tankers from the BC coast. Under no circumstances should we allow that to happen. A bitumen spill at sea could destroy our coastline, together with the fish and wildlife that depend on it, for hundreds of years.
My first column discussed the light oil spill by the Exxon Valdez and the terrible toll it took on the Alaskan habitat and fishery. It also gave proof that a bitumen spill would be far worse. A bitumen spill would be almost completely unrecoverable because it would sink and stay on the bottom of our seabed.
The solution that is best for Canada is to build a refinery in Kitimat. I am promoting and backing this solution. It will convert the bitumen to very light fuels that would float and evaporate if ever spilled. There are other enormous benefits:
There will be a major reduction in greenhouse gases. We will use new cutting-edge Canadian technology in our refinery. It will be so clean that in combination with oilsands extraction there will be less CO2 than in the huge conventional oilfields and refineries of Iraq and Nigeria. In other words the Kitimat refinery will neutralize the extra greenhouse gases generated in Canada’s oilsands. This refinery will be built in Asia if not in Kitimat, and if so it will emit double the CO2 of our new design. This is the reason that Andrew Weaver of the BC Green Party is in favour of a Canadian refinery.
An Asian refinery will also generate 100 train cars a day of very dirty coke (much fouler than BC coal) which will be subsequently burnt in the atmosphere to create power. The Kitimat refinery will not result in the production of any coke. As we all live on one planet, it is far better for the global environment to build this refinery in Canada.
Construction of the refinery will create 6,000 jobs in BC for five years. Operations at the refinery will result in more permanent jobs than any project has ever created in BC with approximately 3,000 direct jobs. These will be highly paid permanent jobs. These jobs will be available for the life of the refinery which should be in excess of 50 years. In addition there will be thousands of other jobs created in spinoff local petrochemical companies and in indirect employment throughout the province.
The Canadian and Provincial governments, local regional districts and municipalities, and many First Nations, will share in billions of new tax dollars each year.
Unfortunately our Canadian oil companies are not interested in building a new major refinery. They are focused on extraction which is more profitable than refining. One of them challenged me to spearhead the refinery myself, so I am doing that. We have a solid business plan and as a consequence Chinese banks and other institutions are prepared to lend us most of the funds required to build the greenest and most efficient refinery in the world. We are currently moving ahead with engineering design and environmental work.
We will also build a safe pipeline from Alberta to the refinery, with the active participation of First Nations. Modern pipelines can be built and operated safely. Leak data is available for everyone to see on Canadian and US government websites and it proves recently constructed pipelines are not leaking. Furthermore some of the best pipelining companies in the world are based in Canada.
In addition we will build a fleet of new tankers, powered by LNG rather than Bunker C oil, to transport the refined products to Asia. This way we know the tankers will be state-of-the-art and as safe as possible. The fleet will be owned by a company based in BC so it cannot shirk its legal liability if there ever is a spill at sea.
Let me be up front about my biases. I am for creating thousands of good permanent jobs in BC. I am for creating billions of new tax dollars for government coffers. I am for reducing the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. I am for building an oil pipeline that will never leak. I am for building a modern tanker fleet that carries only refined fuels that float and evaporate if spilled. I am against shipping bitumen in tankers.
If you agree that we should not put bitumen in tankers please contact your local MP and say so. The Canadian government makes a decision on Northern Gateway next month.
Transport system can handle diluted bitumen
Re: Columns by David Black, ‘The greatest threat to the B.C. environment in our lifetime’ (April 22) and ‘The Kitimat refinery proposal: safe pipelines, light fuels and B.C. jobs’ (April 28).
Continued safe marine and pipeline transport of hydrocarbons is in everybody’s interest so Canadians can realize value for resources and oil producers can continue to deliver jobs and economic benefits. No one wants a spill of any product at any time.
The performance track record over the past 50 years is good, but even still, work is ongoing to improve prevention and ensure producers, transportation companies and spill-responders have the best information available to manage products safely and make the best plans possible for response, containment and clean-up in the event of an incident.
Black’s articles incorrectly suggested the Canadian oil industry is not interested in the proposed refinery project and that transporting diluted bitumen is more risky than transporting other types of oil because of its chemical properties.
Fact is, oil producers are seeking increased access to existing and new markets – in Canada, the United States and internationally – to satisfy market demand for increasing Canadian oil production. All options to achieve that goal are worthy of study.
And diluted bitumen – oil sands bitumen diluted with natural gas liquids that allow it to flow – is no more dangerous than other types of crude oil.
Chemically, there’s nothing about diluted bitumen the transportation system cannot be prepared to manage. Whether it moves by pipelines or tankers, diluted bitumen meets all the same specifications and behaves the same as other crude oils.
Oil floats on water if it has an API gravity above water’s 10 degree API gravity. Diluted bitumen has an API gravity of 20-22 degrees. Any type of oil spilled in water, eventually “weathers” and can be driven below the surface by waves or currents. Diluted bitumen behaves the same way.
There have been several scientific studies completed on diluted bitumen. Earlier this year, the federal government released a research study that demonstrated diluted bitumen floats on salt water – even after evaporation and exposure to light.
The study was commissioned by Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural Resources Canada as part of the government’s plan to implement a world-class prevention, preparedness and response regime for marine transportation. Results of the study will be used to inform spill responders and help guide more research.
Our industry is focused on responsible development of Canada’s resources. We welcome transparency on our safety and environmental performance, based on sound science.
As producers, we transport oil with care and attention at all times. We expect all transportation providers to deliver safe services in a responsible manner.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Diluted bitumen too dangerous at sea
In a letter to this paper Greg Stringham, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, makes assertions about the behavior of diluted bitumen (dilbit) in salt water that are at best half-truths.
He states that dilbit floats on salt water and that it is no more dangerous at sea than other types of oil. That is wrong. It is more dangerous at sea, and infinitely more so than refined fuels like diesel and gasoline.
What Stringham doesn’t mention is that the same report from Environment Canada that he quotes from, goes on to say that dilbit sinks in seawater when there is sediment present. Another study by a top U.S. environmental chemist, Jeff Short, says the same thing. It was filed by the Gitxaala Nation to the National Energy Board in March 2013, so Stringham is well aware of it. That study says animal and plant matter like plankton, as well as sediment, cause the dilbit to sink.
Our entire coast has sediment and plankton in abundance. All our rivers are glacial and full of silt. Plankton is omnipresent, which is why the whales are here, and shallow seas like Hecate Strait throw up huge amounts of sediment from the bottom in storms.
Dilbit will sink in our waters if there is a spill and it will harden up like caulking material on beaches and the intertidal zone. The intertidal zone includes large mud flats in the midcoast because the tidal range is more than 20 feet there. How would we ever get them clean again?
Stringham also says our Canadian oil industry is interested in the Kitimat refinery idea. That is news to me. I have talked to all the companies and there is no interest whatsoever. That is why I am spearheading the project. It will keep dilbit out of tankers and provide an enormous value-add for BC.
Canada’s oil industry needs a west coast pipeline. Coastal First Nations, the Yinka Dene First Nations, Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Terrace, Smithers, the provincial and federal NDP, the federal Liberals, the provincial and federal Green Party, many blue collar unions and the majority of folks in B.C. are against Northern Gateway’s idea of putting dilbit in tankers.
A refinery is economically viable. Why is it so hard for our oil industry to see that the way forward is to build a green refinery which will cut greenhouse gases by 50%, create thousands of jobs, generate billions of new annual taxes, and gain acceptance for a safe pipeline?
Kitimat Clean, Black Press