A self-described quiet environmentalist and businessman in British Columbia is proposing to do something that hasn't been done in 30 years in Canada: build a refinery.
The proposal, little more than a plan on paper at this point, will put a wrinkle in the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline plan that is buckling under mounting opposition in B.C.
David Black, who says he is not quite a billionaire but "wealthy enough," is no oil man. He's known mostly for his 150 newspapers in Canada and the U.S.
And he's not related to Conrad Black, even though that's often the question he's asked.
When asked why he's planning to enter the refinery business at a time when licences are rarely granted and refineries throughout the U.S. east coast are closing, Black said he feels compelled to.
"I'd rather not," he said. "This is not my field, but I worry about the next generation. There are a lot of kids without jobs, lots can't buy a house ever in Vancouver."
Black, 66, calculates it would cost a couple of million for the environmental assessment process, money he will front himself.
He hopes to find investors for his project, which he says will be a safer environmental option than shipping heavy crude overseas.
"We want to take all the oil from the pipeline, the idea is not to ship any heavy crude off-shore," he said.
Black announced in Vancouver on Friday he's starting his ambitious project by filing for the environmental assessment process that could take two years to complete. The $13-billion refinery would be dependent on the Northern Gateway pipeline shipping into Kitimat, B.C., oilsands heavy crude oil from northern Alberta.
If approved, the refinery will be the first built in Canada since the Shell refinery was built in Edmonton in 1983.
Black thinks he could run a refinery more cheaply than one in China because he intends to ship modules from off-shore via cargo ships to the coastal locale of Kitimat and have the pieces put together in B.C.
He expects it will take 6,000 workers over five years to build the refinery. Once built, the refinery would employ about 3,000 full-time people.
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan, who listened to the press conference, said the announcement was a great day for her community of about 10,000 residents, 650 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
"We support projects that will add value to our natural resources," she said. "This project will change the face of the Northwest."
But others were not so enthused. Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nation, warned Black at the announcement that going ahead with an environmental assessment to seek approval from the province to build the refinery is a step that should be taken only after more consultations with the region's First Nations.
"You're proposing to put a refinery in an area with very limited air supply and polluting that area even more so," he said.
"I suggest if you really want to do business in the North, you have to talk to First Nations before talking to environmental assessment."
Black said his proposed refinery is a pragmatic approach that will create thousands of jobs and multiple spin-offs jobs and removes the threat of offshore pollution from a heavy crude oil spill because transportation of refined fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel - which all evaporate - is much safer.
Copyright 2012 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
(Originally published August 18, 2012, in The Toronto Star.)