‘Part of the solution:’ Alberta seeks proposals to build new refinery

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to cabinet members in Edmonton on Monday December 3, 2018. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says the province is seeking expressions of interest to build a new refinery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Alberta is looking for someone to build a new oil refinery, but Premier Rachel Notley says any deal needs to work for both industry and taxpayers.

“The project must make sense for Alberta,” Notley said Tuesday. “It must have a return on investment for Albertans, and it must diversify the way we use the energy resources that we as Albertans all own.”

Notley announced the province is looking for expressions of interest from companies to build a new refinery or expand an existing one. Such requests are the first step in the process, but would include specifics such as financing, technical feasibility, and timelines.

The projects would have to use Alberta-produced oil feedstock. The deadline for requests is Feb. 8.

“We know companies are interested. We’ve heard it first-hand,” said Notley. “So we are stepping up. As the owners of this resource, we are saying once and for all, let’s stop the talk and start acting.”

Notley declined to specify what the province is looking for or what it might offer on any refinery construction deal, saying it’s too early in the process.

“We’re open to looking at different arrangements, but we’re going to (first) get a sense of the range of arrangements that might be coming our way,” said Notley. “Then we’ll look at what gives the best return on investment to Albertans.”

Terry Parker, head of the Building Trades of Alberta, said the workforce is already in place.

“We have far too many unemployed, skilled construction workers,” Parker said. “We need major projects happening.”

Alberta already has four upgraders and four refineries, with the North West Sturgeon refinery set to begin commercial production next year.

The February deadline for expressions of interest comes at the same time the legislated three-month window opens for a spring election in Alberta.

Opposition United Conservative finance critic Drew Barnes said Notley’s plan is threadbare and politically motivated.

“We will of course review details of any plan,” said Barnes.

“But Albertans will recognize today’s non-announcement from the NDP for what it is — the latest ploy from a tired, broke, and increasingly desperate government quickly approaching the 2019 election.”

The refinery is one of many Alberta initiatives to reduce costs and get more oil to market to fetch a better price.

Problems such as pipeline bottlenecks have seen Alberta oil recently sell at discount prices so low, Notley announced earlier this month her government is ordering an oil production cut to bump up the price and forestall industry job cuts.

The province also announced it will buy rail cars to get more oil to market. It is also pushing the federal government to revive the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would triple capacity to the B.C. coast, and roll back proposed federal legislation it says will make approval more difficult for future energy megaprojects.

Notley said Alberta will also keep spreading the message that when Alberta does well, Canada gains as well.

She also responded to Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who said a few days earlier that there is no “social acceptability” for a pipeline that would carry what he called Alberta’s “dirty energy” through his province.

“There’s a high level of hypocrisy that I think most Canadians are growing increasingly frustrated with,” said Notley.

Legault “needs to get off his high horse,” she added.

“He needs to look at what’s in the ground, and he needs to understand that not only is our product not dirty, but that it actually funds the schools, the hospitals, the roads and potentially even some of the hydroelectricity infrastructure in Quebec.”

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