Opinion

Ship crude by sea? Dangerous nonsense

am against shipping bitumen because of the risk of a spill on our coast. For the last two years I have spent a great deal of time studying oil refineries, oil pipelines and tankers.

Bitumen, even if it is diluted, does not float in sea water if there is sediment present. Since there is an abundance of sediment along the BC coast, the bitumen will sink rapidly and there will be little chance of recovering any of it if there is a spill. Refining bitumen before it is loaded into tankers solves this problem because refined fuels float and evaporate.

There is a great deal of misinformation being disseminated about the threat to the coast. A senior executive at one of the big oil companies in Canada recently told me their official position is that bitumen doesn’t sink. That is nonsense. The federal government published a thorough study on Nov. 30, 2013 proving that it does sink if there is sediment around. The report is available online.

The BC Chamber of Shipping is running ads talking about the advantages of GPS-based navigation and saying spills such as Exxon Valdez would not be possible today because of double hulls and sub-divisions within tankers.

Again, this is nonsense. Double hulls do not prevent hull fracture if there is a collision at speed, only if there is a gentle scrape.

As for the GPS claim, most marine accidents are caused by human inattention, not by a lack of knowledge about position.

All ships carried systems to indicate their location before GPS came along. The Exxon Valdez crew could have glanced at their instruments to determine their location but they didn’t. The crew on the Queen of the North also didn’t do so. Marine disasters regularly occur and a quick search of the internet shows human error is usually the problem. There will be more accidents in future.

Our research has shown us that modern pipelines can be built and operated safely. Leak data is available for everyone to see on Canadian and US government websites and it proves recently constructed pipelines are not leaking. Furthermore some of the best pipe line companies in the world are based in Canada.

Unfortunately we cannot have the same level of confidence about tankers which are the most critical component involving the shipment of oil because recovery is so difficult.

Exxon Valdez carried light oil and lost 250,000 barrels (the equivalent of 17 Olympic swimming pools). The light oil floated for the most part and could be washed off beaches. Even so, after four years of work with up to 11,000 workers and 1,400 boats involved, less than 10 per cent was recovered.

Bitumen is very different. It would harden up on shore and much of it would sink to the bottom and be unrecoverable. If we lost a tanker load, which is eight times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill, we would destroy the coast and fishery for hundreds of years.

We should build a state-of-the art refinery at Kitimat to remove any chance of a bitumen spill at sea.

And of a refinery is built in Asia and not in Kitimat, and it will emit double the CO2 of our new design. An Asian refinery will also generate 100 train cars a day of very dirty coke which will be subsequently burnt in the atmosphere to create power. The Kitimat refinery will not result in the production of any coke. It is far better for the global environment to build this refinery in Canada.

Construction of the refinery will create 6,000 jobs here for five years and approximately 3,000 skilled, highly-paid jobs afterward for the life of the refinery which should be in excess of 50 years. There will be thousands of spinoff jobs.

It is also our intention to build a safe pipeline and a fleet of new tankers, powered by LNG rather than Bunker C oil, to transport refined products to Asia. We have a solid business plan and as a consequence the money is available to build the greenest and most efficient refinery in the world.

I am for creating thousands of good permanent jobs in BC, billions in new tax dollars, for reducing the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions and for building an oil pipeline that will never leak.

I am for building a new tanker fleet, owned by a BC company that cannot shirk its liability for a spill at sea, and that carries refined fuels that float and evaporate if spilled.

David Black is the CEO of Kitimat Clean, the proponent of a $32 billion oil refinery project. He is also the majority owner of Black Press which includes The Terrace Standard.

 

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