Tension between future concerns versus short-term profits

I trust Tribune readers have reviewed David Black’s articles on the proposal of a refinery in Kitimat.

I trust Tribune readers have reviewed David Black’s articles on the proposal of a refinery in Kitimat.

What caught my attention was the value added aspect of the proposal.  The state-of-the-art refinery would convert the bitumen into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Black mentions that the Canadian oil companies are not interested in building a refinery because it’s not as profitable as shipping raw bitumen.

I have always wondered why the Albertans have not built a refinery next to the extraction site which would solve a lot of the negative feedback they are getting from trying to ship the dirty tar sands product.

They could also produce products that could help Canada develop a self sufficient petro chemical industry.  With refined fuels mentioned above plus many other products they would have the option of shipping by truck, rail and pipelines in multiple directions to domestic and foreign markets.

With B.C’s experience in trying to add value to forest products for the past four decades it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a refinery proposal comes from this province.

While we are still shipping some raw logs out of the province, I am confident the companies involved with producing value added products will keep the log exports in check.

There is lots of experience in B.C. adding value through lumber production, pulp and paper, oriented strand board, medium density fibreboard and plywood plants, as well as wood pellets and cogeneration facilities. Residents are well aware of the high job ratio associated with value added industries like furniture, window and door production which are mostly small businesses.

I for one will be very interested in Mr. Black’s plans and will try to support his proposals with some reservations which I will deal with later.

In the meantime I will express my displeasure with the federal government over their lack of leadership regarding this issue.

Where is our national energy plan?

Rather than tinkering with the environmental laws and regulations which will make it easier to ship dirty oil why not hire back some research staff to work with the provinces and make Canada a leader of green energy rather than the brunt of jokes at the environment conferences.

It is totally irresponsible for Albertans and all Canadians to ship poor quality oil to other countries so they can create the jobs and clean up our mess.

As Mr. Black points out the only way other countries can refine the tar sands product more cheaply than us is to cut corners and produce harmful byproducts which we should know by now will probably come back to us in the atmosphere we all breathe.

I became aware of a similar problem when looking for ways to produce biochar from logging residues.  If we used the same methods as third world countries you could get more toxic byproducts as well as a lot of CO2 (often worse than rapid but wasteful burning of the cull piles) even though 50 per cent of the carbon was sequestered as a stable carbon source.

The lesson we should have learned is that it takes long term planning and reduced profit margins when environmental issues are taken into consideration in the development of new industries.

A national energy plan must take into account the many similar products produced from refining crude oil or the pyrolysis of agriculture and wood waste.

There are many advantages to combining markets and transportation options with similar products from the two processes.

As Canadians we can’t let the corporate rush of oil companies to recover their costs trump the need for sustainable, long term environmentally responsible use of our natural resources.

Leave the oil in the ground for future generations until we get it right.

It is also irresponsible for us to plan more hydro electric projects that will flood our rare valley lands while we continue to wastefully burn millions of tons of biofuels which could generate power and other useful products rather than producing CO2.

As mentioned previously, an Alberta location of the proposed refinery would make more sense from a pipeline safety, environmental and market distribution point of view.

If the federal government refuses to be involved in long range energy planning and Alberta does not take a more responsible role we may be on our own.

A refinery located near the eastern B.C. border would incorporate many of the advantages discussed above regarding a facility closer to the Alberta tar sands.

It will take additional information and discussion regarding options like primary and secondary refining processes and where they would be best located to develop a national energy plan.

In closing, I encourage everyone to get involved in this very important discussion which will impact future generations as well as us.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.


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