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Refine it where you mine it

In all of the Trans Mountain Pipeline debate, the inherent inefficiency of transporting unrefined Alberta bitumen to the U.S. and offshore nations for refinement seems to be lost.

Moving bitumen, whether by rail, pipeline or marine vessels means moving extra weight and volume. Bitumen contains waste products such as sand, sulfur and toxins. It must be diluted with condensates to create diluted bitumen (dilbit) to become a flowable liquid. But this increases volume by 30 per cent or more, necessitating larger, more dangerous pipelines. And most condensates must be transported to bitumen mines for the dilution process, adding more inefficiencies and costs. 

Does this make economic sense?

Why not refine oil sand resources where they are mined? We overcome many of the inefficiencies mentioned. We increase employment opportunities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northern B.C. We extract more tax revenue from thousands of well-paid Canadians engaged in the refining process. Piping dilbit offers few long term employment opportunities for western Canadians. 

Western Canada is suffering from a lack of Canadian refining capacity. Much of B.C.’s diesel and gasoline comes from Washington State. Western Canada should ensure that it is not dependent on the U.S. for these products. Who knows what the Trump administration has in store for us.

And there is an environmental bonus to “refine it where we mine it." Moving refined petroleum products through pipelines and marine transport is far less risky than moving dilbit. Refined products are more volatile and more disbursable. We know very little about how to contain a dilbit spill and the long term environmental consequences. We know a lot more about spills of refined products and how to minimize their impacts.

I fault our federal government for investing $4.5 billion in the 70-year-old Trans Mountain Pipeline and a potential $10 billion expansion to export bitumen refining jobs to the U.S. and off shore companies. I fault them and the industry for not tackling the inherent inefficiencies. Why not invest in western Canada and western Canadian workers? 

This makes economic sense.

Steve Burke, West Kelowna



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