Supporters of David Black’s Kitimat Clean project to build a refinery about 25 kilometres north of Kitimat have been met by skepticism by experts and economists from the Canadian oil patch who keep telling the people of northwestern British Columbia that to create jobs by adding value to Alberta crude is uneconomic.
The Americans, apparently, have a different view, with plans announced for shipping projects in Washington State that could handle not only oil shale crude from the Bakken Formation in the Dakotas but also Canadian “heavy crude” aimed at refineries in Californa, refineries that would require new or renovated facilities.
So let’s add another question to northwest BC’s skepticism about the Alberta oil patch. Why is uneconomic to refine in Alberta or BC, but apparently increasingly economic to refine in California given the cost of building or rebuilding facilites?
Opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline have always speculated that any bitumen exported from Kitimat could end up in California rather than markets in Asia.
According to reports, the Vancouver, Washington, project plans to load the bitumen on barges for shipment to California, which is likely to cause a storm of controversy with environmental groups in both states, especially if a barge, which has almost no controls compared to a tanker, foundered and ended up on the coast.
The New York Times, on Oct. 31, looked at the issue in a report Looking for a Way Around Keystone XL, Canadian Oil Hits the Rails. The issue of moving crude by rail has been gaining traction in recent months, with growing opposition to pipeline projects. But where do those long trains of tank cars full of crude go?
Times reporter Clifford Kraus says:
The developing rail links for oil sands range across Canada and over the border from the Gulf Coast to Washington and California. Railways can potentially give Canadian producers a major outlet to oil-hungry China, including from refineries in Washington and California.
According to the Times, the plans call for two Canadian export terminals.
“We want to diversify our markets beyond just moving our product south,” said Peter Symons, a spokesman for Statoil, a Norwegian oil giant that has signed contracts to lease two Canadian oil loading terminals. “We can get that product on a ship and get it to premium markets in Asia.”
The Americans, on the other hand, are looking toward refineries.
Again the Times report says:
Several Washington and Oregon refiners and ports are planning or building rail projects for Canadian heavy crude as well as light oil from North Dakota. The Texas refinery giant Tesoro and the oil services company Savage have announced a joint venture to build a $100 million, 42-acre oil-handling plant in the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River that could handle 380,000 barrels of oil each day if permits are granted.
Not that everything is clear sailing. The Times says there is resistance to a plan to refine heavy crude in California.
The city of Benicia, Calif., last month delayed the granting of a permit for Valero Energy’s planned rail terminal at its refinery by deciding to require an environmental impact report after residents expressed concerns that Valero would use the terminal to import Canadian oil sands crude.
Tesoro and its partner Savage announced the Vancouver, Washington project in April.
With access to rail and existing marine infrastructure, the Port of Vancouver is uniquely positioned to serve as a hub for the distribution of North American crude oil to West Coast refining centers. Tesoro and Savage are ideal partners for this project, having already operated in close partnership for almost ten years on the West Coast. The Tesoro-Savage Joint Venture’s combined capabilities, experience and resources are expected to create substantial benefits for the Port and the Vancouver community in the form of sustainable revenue to the Port and local jobs associated with the facility’s construction and operation.
The Tesoro news release quotes Greg Goff, President and CEO of Tesoro.
Building upon the recent success of the rail unloading facility at our Anacortes, Wash., refinery, where we have been delivering Mid-Continent crude oil via unit train in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner, this project is the ideal next step for Tesoro as we drive additional feedstock cost advantage to the remaining refineries in our West Coast system.
While the Tesoro April release doesn’t specifically mention heavy crude or bitumen from Alberta, in August, Reuters reporting on a Tesoro results conference call said, the project would “supply cheaper U.S. and Canadian crude to refineries all along the West Coast – both its own and those run by competitors.”
The project, which would initially have capacity of 120,000 barrels a day and could be expanded to 280,000 BPD, is the biggest so far proposed to help Pacific Coast refineries tap growing output of inland U.S. and Canadian heavy crudes.
The project, where North Dakota Bakken and Canadian crude would travel by rail to the marine facility in Vancouver, Washington and then barged to refining centers, is being planned with joint venture partner Savage Companies.
In September, Petroleum News reported
The Port of Vancouver facility will have “a lot of flexibility and capability to take different types of crudes, from heavy Canadian crudes to crudes from the Mid-Continent… So we will source crude from where the best place is,” Goff said on Aug. 2. “The facility also was designed to supply the entire West Coast… We can go from as far away as Alaska to Southern California, in those refineries, which we intend to do.”
Reuters also reported
Regulators also are considering Valero’s permit request for a 60,000 bpd rail facility at its 78,000 bpd Wilmington refinery near Los Angeles, but in June the area pollution regulator said it would take 18 months to finish an environmental review, permitting and construction.
Alon Energy USA also is seeking permits for a rail facility at its Southern California refining system, which shut down late last year as losses mounted on high imported crude costs and low asphalt demand. The company hopes to get those permits by year-end.
Valero spokesman Bill Day on Friday declined to say whether Valero would be interested in tapping inland and Canadian crude through the Tesoro project, but noted that the company values flexibility in getting cheaper crudes to its refineries.
Asked today about the New York Times report, (at the time of his regular news conference, he hadn’t read the story) Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said, “I mean there’s been so much uncertainty, in large part created by this government with respect to moving oil anywhere. This is another proposal, it seems every week you wake up, open the papers and there’s another proposal. Some of them are legitimate, some of them are snake oil.
“This one I’m not familiar with, so I can’t make specific comments on it, I will certainly look at it because I’m very interested in energy on the west coast. I’d have to see, given the government we have in Ottawa right now, they’re not friends to communities and First Nations and certainly not friends to the oil sector because they keep causing so much concern within the broader public and hurt the companies’ ability to gain social licence to get a project going.”