Our View: Refinery idea a tough sell in B.C.

There doesn’t appear to be a grey area for those who are weighing in on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

There doesn’t appear to be a grey area for those who are weighing in on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Opposition is rampant and loud, focusing primarily on environmental concerns, while supporters defend Enbridge’s project for, among other reasons, its economic potential.

Last week’s announcement from David Black, the owner of this newspaper, for a proposed $13-billion oil refinery in Kitimat, adds a new conversation to this divisive issue.

Analogous to milling raw logs instead of shipping them overseas, Black wants to add value to crude oil in B.C.

A massive refinery, where half a million barrels of crude oil could be processed each day, delivers the idea of permanent employment and economic benefit for the province, instead of pumping oil sands crude into tankers bound for China.

Building and running the facility would create thousands of jobs, and the area around Terrace and Kitimat would require major infrastructure improvements to accommodate the regional boom.

It would also ease some, certainly not all, environmental concerns about oil tankers on the coast. As opposed to heavy crude oil, refined fuels float and evaporate.

But Black is putting the cart before the horse. Even if he arranges $13 billion in financing and receives environmental permits, any refinery is predicated on the Enbridge pipeline, which remains deeply unpopular with a majority of the public and northern First Nations people.

Significant economic benefit derived from the pipeline could sway popular opinion, especially people living through hard times in northern B.C., but probably not enough to tip the scales.

Black and Enbridge will have a tough time convincing skeptical urban residents in southern cities that the potential of thousands of jobs in the northern oil sector is worth the risk of a pipeline leak or a tanker running aground on B.C.’s coast.