Saturday, February 08, 2014
The Green Party's Controversial Compromise
British Columbia's sole Green Party MLA, Andrew Weaver, is willing to accept a Northern Gateway pipeline but on conditions that probably won't be acceptable to Ottawa, to Alberta or to Big Fossil.
Weaver is solidly opposed to trafficking in dilbit - bitumen diluted with light hydrocarbons to liquefy it enough to pass through pipelines. He wants it refined, on site in Alberta, into synthetic crude. And then he wants that synthetic crude further refined into market products - oil, gasoline, diesel - at a refinery in Kitimat before being loaded into tankers for Asian markets.
The advantages to a dual state refining process would be eliminating the dilbit hazard. Energy producers in Alberta would have to do the right thing - refining the garbage out right there. That would include the toxins, acids and heavy metals. It would also remove the pet coke, the truly dirty, granular petroleum coal that gets exported with dilbit and burned elsewhere. Let that crap stay in Alberta where it belongs.
A pipeline carrying refined, synthetic crude presents a far lower environmental hazard than one carrying dilbit. Dilbit is corrosive, leading to more pipeline failures. Being sludgy it has to be heated and pumped under higher pressure to get it through pipelines. When dilbit leaks occur they're massively destructive and extremely hard to clean up. The example of the Enbridge fiasco in Kalamazoo, Michigan is all anyone needs to know. Dilbit also requires a pipeline bringing diluent in to be mixed with bitumen and, hence, a much larger volume pipeline going out because it carries not just the unconventional crude but also the volume of pet coke, other contaminants plus the diluent itself. Dilbit, because of its greater volume, also necessitates more tanker traffic.
If a pipeline must go to Kitimat, the only thing it should carry is fully refined, synthetic crude oil. Refining that heavy oil into commercial products, gasoline, diesel and light oil, would further reduce the environmental impacts of a major tanker accident which is a near certainty at some point.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. The dual refining option would create well-paid, permanent jobs in Canada, work that now goes to offshore refineries. We would also be able to keep a close eye on those operations and their emissions.
Cost, cost, cost. Our federal and provincial governments, the pipeline operators and Big Fossil want to shift the dirtiest, most dangerous product directly into those tankers for a couple of reasons. It's cheaper to shift cruddy crude to market than it is to ship refined crude. That's because there's 'surplus' refining capacity in Texas or China, or so we're told. What's rarely mentioned is the added energy consumption and emissions that refining on site in Alberta would add to the province's already bloated GHG numbers. That would be like having to live with two black eyes when you can offshore one.
I'm all for not offshoring emissions from our own economic activity, especially on the energy resource side. We should take responsibility for what we do and any costs that go with it. What is never mentioned is that if Canada shouldered the costs of refining bitumen into market products, the margins could be hammered, if not wiped out even with all the subsidies, grants, deferrals and minimal royalties we now have in place.
And, while I'm still opposed to supertanker traffic on the B.C. coast, I'd rather see a tanker sink that's full of product that floats, evaporates and disperses in wave action than a tanker laden with bitumen any day.