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Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan): Shell may build new refinery: Canadian facility would be first North American plant in 20 years


ST. CLAIR TWP., Ontario – The proposed construction of a new oil refinery could be an economic boon for Lambton County.

Shell Canada announced this month a proposal to build a massive new oil refinery in St. Clair Township north of Sombra. The refinery would be the first to be built in two decades in North America.

The refinery project could cost between $6 and $8 billion and provide 600 to 700 new permanent jobs, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said. The project would require labor from Canada and the United States, he said.

The company operates a refinery in Corunna, Ontario, where it employs 290 people and processes more than 70,000 barrels of oil a day. The new refinery would process 150,000 to 250,000 barrels a day.

“If it comes to fruition, which we’re hoping it will, it will be a very large investment in our community,” said Steve Arnold, mayor of St. Clair Township. “One of the concerns that we always have is the environmental impacts.”

In addition to environmental concern for the St. Clair River that forms a border between the United States and Canada, the proposed refinery site is near a Carolinian forest that includes several species of endangered flora and fauna, Arnold said.

The plant would have to comply with the newest environmental legislation and be one of the most environmentally-friendly refineries built in four decades, he said.

The company has proposed the refinery to meet growing demands for gasoline in Ontario, said Leigh Anne Richardson, a Shell Canada spokeswoman.

Ontario residents faced gas shortages and high prices earlier this year when Imperial Oil Ltd.’s refinery in Nanticoke, on the Lake Erie shoreline near Hamilton, cut back production due to a fire. The fire came on the heels of one at the company’s Sarnia plant, which officials have said did not reduce supply.

Richardson said an environmental assessment must be completed before the proposed Shell Canada refinery is built. The assessment will include studies of the plant’s potential effects on air and water quality.

“We understand the concerns about water in the area and the issues with the St. Clair River. We’re too early in the process to make commitments about what we’re able to do, but we are committed to looking at that,” Richardson said.

The company will have two public meetings next week during which area residents – Canadian and American – can offer suggestions and raise concerns.

Canadian law requires the provincial and federal governments approve an environmental assessment, including public comment, before projects of this kind can move forward. Shell has assigned 40 people to work on the project design, public consultation and an environmental-impact study.

The preliminary studies will cost $50 million.

The environmental study will take about a year, and the company won’t make a final decision about building for two to three years.

The refinery probably won’t have a huge impact on the St. Clair County work force said, Doug Alexander, executive director of the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County. He said taxation and customs regulations make living in the United States and working in Canada difficult.

“Because of immigration and multiple taxation and other issues, there are very few people that live in our area that work in the Sarnia area,” he said.

Bradley said he plans to work with international trade unions to attract Canadian and American workers, including Michigan residents.

“It’s my estimation there will be an importation of skilled labor from the U.S. just to make this project work,” Bradley said. “The border is invisible when they need to move labor back and forth.”

Richardson said the company would first look to the local area when hiring workers.

“We do need the skilled work force not just to operate the plant but to build it as well,” she said. “Our priority would be hiring in those local communities.”

Contact Nicole Gerring at (810) 989-6270 or ngerring@ 

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