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Premier shuns refinery decisions to avoid conflict

B.C. Premier Christy Clark - File photo
B.C. Premier Christy Clark
— image credit: File photo

Premier Christy Clark is stepping aside from any decisions related to new oil refineries after the emergence of a new refinery proposal involving her ex-husband.

Mark Marissen has been hired as vice-president of Pacific Future Energy, which today announced plans to build an oil refinery in Prince Rupert.

"I learned that this proposal was going to become something real last week," Clark said, adding she then contacted the provincial conflict-of-interest commissioner for guidance.

Pacific Future Energy is the latest company pursuing the idea of refining bitumen from the Alberta oil sands before it's loaded onto tankers so there's less risk to the marine environment waters in the event of a spill.

Victoria businessman David Black, owner of Black Press newspapers, has spearheaded a similar refinery proposal, to be located between Kitimat and Terrace.

Black's Kitimat Clean plan could use bitumen coming from the Northern Gateway pipeline – if it's built – or else it could aim to build a separate pipeline or use trains carrying oil by rail.

Black continues to seek a $10-billion loan guarantee from the federal government to satisfy potential international investors.

Pacific Future Energy said it plans a scaleable $10-billion refinery ranging from 200,000 barrels per day up to one million if required.

Salmer Salameh, the executive chairman of Pacific Future and the head of a Mexican infrastructure conglomerate, called it "a unique opportunity to build the greenest refinery in the world."

The company announced its plan Tuesday and said it's beginning pre-feasibility studies.

It comes ahead of an imminent decision by the federal government on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would carry bitumen to Kitimat for export by tanker.

"It is my understanding that this proposal doesn't depend or isn't linked to any pipeline proposal," Clark told reporters Tuesday.

She will refer all government deliberations on any refinery proposal to Finance Minister Mike de Jong.

The conflict-of-interest rules for MLAs do not specifically cover spouses, but say MLAs should recuse themselves if a situation is likely to lead to a perception they may personally benefit.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth called it the right decision.

"It's important that the premier is held to a higher standard," he said.

The B.C. Liberals 2013 election platform backed the concept of Black's refinery plan and pledged to support its development.

Black said he met last year with Pacific Future's Mexican backers, who initially wanted to partner with him on the new refinery.

But he said they were only interested if they got majority control, something Black rejected as against Canada's interests and potentially leading to reduced environmental safeguards.

"The good news to me is their interest validates our value-added concept for any doubters out there as to whether this is a good business proposition," Black said. "Here's somebody else who wants to do the same thing."

There have been no further talks on joining forces, he said.

Black said he's not concerned about provincial bias arising from Marissen's role.

"I'm not asking the province to pick a favourite or anything but I do hope they endorse the concept and provide funding for the concept so we can move ahead."

Black said he's been told by federal officials that a loan guarantee from Ottawa is possible – but only if B.C. also backs it financially.

"It comes down to whether the B.C. government is keen on championing this kind of project and has money for it."

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