Newspaper publisher David Black holds jars of diluted bitumen while announcing a plan to potentially build a $13 billion dollar oil refinery in Kitimat, B.C in Vancouver, British Columbia August 17, 2012. Black, owner of Black Press Ltd, said that the plant would process up to 550,000 barrels a day of crude at a site near Kitimat, British Columbia, the terminus of the proposed Northern Gateway line.
Credits: Ben Nelms/REUTERS
EDMONTON - A proposed bitumen-upgrading facility at the Kitimat, BC, terminal of the Northern Gateway - and the much-maligned pipeline itself - are getting definite interest from cities in northern B.C.
That's despite provincial hostility to the project from BC Premier Christy Clark, who threw down the gauntlet at last month's Council of Federation in Halifax.
David Black's proposed $13-billion upgrader could reverse the economic decline in the northwestern port town where losses of a mill and a plant have decimated the labour force and separated families, said Kitimat Mayor Mayor Joanne Monaghan after polling city councillors Monday night.
Black came and talked with the city's economic development officer first, then met with the Kitimat city council a few weeks ago.
Adding the value of refining to Alberta bitumen before sending it to Asian markets makes environmental and economic sense, providing the science is good, she said.
"Their feeling is that it's good, if we use natural resources and value-add them instead of shipping it out - and we'll wait for the review - this project would be good for Kitimat and Terrace and the entire regional district and the entire northwest, if it would be environmentally sound and it would go ahead," Monaghan said.
"It's the most logical place. We're close to water, we're right on the rail. Why would you want to put it any other place?"
Monaghan has a long history of active service on local and regional issues. She was chair of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine for eight years, president of the Union of British Columbia
Municipalities (UBCM) for two terms and president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for one term.
During her UBCM tenure, BC signed a "protocol agreement" to recognize all municipal and regional governments as levels of government. The provincial government is now bound by protocol and legislation to consult municipalities and regional districts before considering legislation affecting them.
Kitimat bills itself as a "successful competitor for new global trade," touting $30 billion in new investment in a decade, including an aluminum smelter expansion, liquid natural gas export facilities and green power developments.
But the loss of a mill and a methanol plant within the past few years were hard on Kitimat, taking the population down to about 8,500 - a far cry from a bustling 15,000 when Monaghan came to town four decades ago.
Currently the town's population is about 10,000, but the upgrader's reported 6,000 construction jobs for five years, and then 3,000 full-time staffers and private contractors to operate it, brings a heady promise of jobs to lure families back to town.
"We're hoping they will come back. We were splitting up families. The men had to leave and get jobs," Monaghan said.
On the street in downtown Kitimat, Monaghan said she hears both opposition and support for the upgrader. The town has been economically depressed, so the new project offers help for families with kids to put through school, she said.
Environmental lobbyists have railed against bitumen's "heavy oil" weight that would make it sink to the bottom in case of a spill instead of forming a slick atop the water that's easier to clean up.
Refining the bitumen in Kitimat could help mitigate the dangers of carrying it via tankers to Asia as well as for residents who make their living with tourism, crustacean farms and fishing and even Monaghan's own helicopter adventure company along the 115 km of channel leading to Kitimat's inland port.
"It keeps the bitumen tankers out of the channel, which was a very important issue," she said, quick to add that the science touted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the determining factor for the Northern Gateway is critical.
"I think science is always important and I think we always have to look at environmental reviews," Monaghan said.