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Edmonton Journal: Shell probes public on new refinery

Environmental concerns raised over Sarnia location

The Canadian Press

Weeks after Ontario was engulfed in a gasoline shortage of epic proportions, Shell Canada is asking the public whether it would support construction of a new Sarnia-area oil refinery.

The company is to hold an open house Wednesday afternoon at a hotel in Wallaceburg, Ont., north of Chatham, to outline plans for a multibillion dollar refinery that would process heavy crude oil from Alberta.

The facility would be built alongside Shell’s existing refinery in St. Clair Township, said Leigh Anne Richardson, a spokesperson for Shell Canada.

Another consultation meeting is to be held at a Sarnia hotel on Thursday afternoon, she said.

“We’re looking to integrate our oil sands production in the Ontario region,” said Richardson, noting the new refinery would also help ease Ontario’s thin margin between supply and demand of oil products such as gasoline and diesel.

The province’s available fuel inventory became an issue in the aftermath of last month’s fire at Imperial Oil’s (TSX:IMO) refinery in Nanticoke, Ont. Hundreds of gas stations across the province ran out of fuel in the weeks following the Feb. 15 blaze at the refinery, which normally processes about 118,000 barrels per day.

Richardson said Shell has an option to buy about 2,400 hectares of land in Lambton County, near its current refinery, which processes 65,000 barrels per day of crude oil, and employs about 290workers.

The projected capacity of the new refinery would be 150,000 to 250,000 barrels per day.

The refinery project is in its infancy stages, however, and consultations will focus on drafting the terms of the environmental assessment, Richardson said. So far there has not been much opposition to speak of, she said.

“The reaction so far has been pretty positive,” said Richardson.

But Jim Brophy, the executive director of the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, located in Sarnia, said the project could have a serious impact on the health of the public, which is already exposed to thousands of carcinogensfrom30local industrial facilities, including refineries, chemical and plastics plants.

“I appreciate the economic issues at stake here, but we need to have a serious examination of the potential health impacts that a brand new refinery could bring,” Brophy said.

Brophy, who has a doctorate in occupational and environmental health, said the Ontario Medical Association has singled out Sarnia for the highest rate of pollution-related deaths in the province.

“It’s a public health issue,” Brophy said.

“The environment already has more than its fair share of toxic exposures.”

But Richardson said emissions control technology has advanced significantly since the last refinery was built in Canada in 1984.

“We’d be looking to utilize newer technologies available to minimize the environmental footprint,” Richardson said.

Shell has hired Jacques Whitford, an environmental engineering consulting firm, to conduct an environmental impact study. It has set aside $50 million for the study this year. The company also has a team of 40staff in place, and has set up an office in Sarnia.

The planned $8.7 billion privatization of Shell Canada by parent company Royal Dutch Shell PLC could also throw the project into question, a Calgary analyst, who declined to be identified, said earlier this month.

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