Canada Refinery Race Lures Mexico Telecom Entrepreneur

Canada’s Pacific Coast, where locals are opposing exports of oil-sands crude, has attracted another refinery proposal long before the supplies can reach the shore by pipeline.

After a newspaper publisher and an aboriginal entrepreneur, a telecommunications executive for Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas is proposing a C$10 billion ($9.2 billion) plant near Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s northern coast.

Samer Salameh, who runs telecommunications businesses for Salinas’s group of companies, is planning a unit that would export gasoline and diesel to avoid the risks of tankers spilling bitumen. He said the refinery would produce close to no carbon emissions.

“If you’re going to be in the birthplace of Greenpeace in British Columbia, it behooves us to build something that’s never been done before, which is to build the greenest oil refinery every built,” Salameh said in a phone interview today from Vancouver.

Salameh, the executive chairman of Vancouver-based Pacific Future Energy Corp., is proposing the refinery days before Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet is slated to rule on Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline project linking the oil sands to the Pacific Coast. While energy companies support the line, Enbridge faces mounting opposition from locals.

The Pacific Future Energy proposal follows those of newspaper publisher David Black and aboriginal entrepreneur Calvin Helin. Black put forward a plan for a C$25 billion refinery in Kitimat, the proposed terminus of Northern Gateway.

Premier Endorsement

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has endorsed the idea of a refinery in the province as a way to create local jobs and avoid the risks of bitumen spills along the coast, which are harder to clean up than average crude. Black and Helin have yet to announce any support from oil producers based in Calgary.

Pacific Future Energy plans to apply for regulatory approval for the refinery in as few as nine months and envisions starting operations around 2022, Salameh said.

The refinery could process as much as 1 million barrels a day if it’s supplied by a leg of the Northern Gateway pipeline, he said, and would initially have a capacity of 200,000 barrels a day, supported by shipments of crude by rail.

Fifty-four percent of almost 3,500 Canadians surveyed in an online poll by the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada published today said the hazards exceed the advantages of shipping crude and liquefied natural gas to Asia, up from 51 percent last year.

Aboriginals’ Opposition

Coastal aboriginal groups have opposed Gateway’s planned terminus point in Kitimat, further south and more inland than Prince Rupert. They argue the 300-kilometer (186-mile) route between Kitimat and open sea would force oil tankers to navigate shallow, narrow channels prone to treacherous weather, raising the risk of oil spills.

Kitimat, a town of 9,000, voted against Gateway in a non-binding April plebiscite.

The federal government is slated to rule on Northern Gateway by June 17.

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