Build a refinery, ban tankers or phase out fossil fuels? B.C. reacts to Alberta threats

As B.C. and Alberta prepare for a legal battle over oil, the future is uncertain.

Earlier this week, almost immediately after being sworn in as premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney proclaimed Bill 12, the so-called “turn off the taps” law.

It would give Alberta the power to slow down how much oil and gas is sent to B.C. in retaliation for opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“It’s unfortunate [to] see two provinces that should be working together for the ultimate benefit of both not being able to do so,” said Trevor Bolin, the leader of the B.C. Conservative Party and a city councillor in Fort St. John.

Fort St. John, like the rest of northeastern B.C., relies heavily on the oil and natural resource economy for revenue.

For Bolin, that makes it all the more crucial to find a middle ground between the two provinces’ stances.

“It really starts to split the people of the province and that’s what we need to avoid,” Bolin told CBC’s Daybreak North.

“We need to find the common ground that there is benefit for B.C. in the Trans Mountain pipeline, there’s benefit for Alberta and, therefore, there is benefit to Canada.”

An oil tanker anchors at the terminus to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. Under the proposed legislation, such traffic would still be allowed on the South Coast of B.C. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Tanker traffic

Bill 12 is not the only legal tool Alberta is threatening to use in support of oil.

Premier Kenney has also stated he’s ready to launch a constitutional challenge to Bill C-48, the federal bill that would prohibit tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude or persistent oil products from docking along B.C.’s North Coast.

Gaagwiss, the president of the Council of the Haida Nation, is supportive of a tanker ban, because he believes it’s needed to protect their traditional way of life, as well as the environment.

“We’re really talking about our home here. Haida Gwaii, the North Coast, the oceans — they are all part of our traditional territory and homeland,” said Gaagwiss, who also goes by Jason Alsop.

“It’s a short-term view of economic benefits and jobs now at the expense of the environment, at the expense of the future.”

Does B.C. need a new refinery? 

For some, the answer is building an oil refinery in Northern B.C., foregoing pipelines and tankers.

David Black, chairman of Black Press and founder of Kitimat Clean, has been pushing for a refinery on B.C.’s coast for nearly a decade.

“It’s the solution for both provinces, it solves all the environmental problems and solves the economic problems,” Black said.

B.C. only has two refineries. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

He wants pure bitumen to be transported by rail, refined in B.C., and then the lighter gas, diesel and jet fuel shipped to outside markets.  

“All major refineries in the world are built on the coast. It’s way cheaper.”

“They are spending billions on all kinds of clean-up stations across B.C.,but  there’s no way it’s going to do any good.”

Costs at the pumps in Vancouver have been hovering between roughly $1.60 and $1.70 a litre for regular over the past few weeks. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Others, like Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, take the opposite stance and instead wants to phase out fossil fuels completely by 2050 — so the risk of a slowdown of oil and gas coming into the province might have a silver lining.

“To be honest, the price of gas is the best incentive to get people taking the bus and carpooling [and purchasing] electric cars, Helps said.

“But I know that this might not be a popular opinion in British Columbia.”