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Shell extends deadline for St. Clair Township refinery project

Sarnia Observer

Shell extends its deadline



Shell is extending the deadline for the environmental assessment of its heavy oil refinery project proposal in St. Clair Township.

Project manager Amrik Ahluwalia notified local leaders Friday that the company would not meet its June 25 deadline, saying Shell has developed some breakthrough technology to reduce the refinery’s environmental footprint that the company wants to further explore.

“We want to take the time to make sure we get everything right,” he said. “(Shell’s received) a lot of input from the government, the First Nations groups and community members, and we want to make sure the environment will come out as a winner.”

However, a Walpole Island First Nations leader said the extended deadline doesn’t ease his community’s concerns for the future of the surrounding environment.

“It’s an important step, it shows that they’re listening. But there’s still a lot to do. I don’t think the battle’s over,” said Kennon Johnson, a Walpole Island councillor who holds the environmental portfolio.

Some Walpole residents have denounced the refinery as a threat to nearby woods and wetlands, which are the home to several endangered species.

“There’s an over-saturation of industries, and I think the community’s asking when’s enough enough?” Johnson asked. “Why should we let another industry come into the area when the industry here already can’t clean up their act?”

The extension, said Ahluwalia, is meant to enhance the project and address any still-lingering public concerns.

He said the proposed plant will avoid environmental impacts wherever it can.

“Wherever we can’t avoid it, we will try to mitigate the damage or offset it,” he said.

Part of the offsetting includes planting or protecting two-and- a-half times the trees and wetlands the site removes. For example, if Shell cuts down 1,000 acres of trees for the refinery, the company will set aside and protect 2,500 acres nearby, Ahluwalia said.

As well, new technology will reduce the site’s environmental footprint, he said.

Ahluwalia said the company has developed a water-recycling process that will prevent any contaminated water from returning to the river. The system will also reduce water discharge from the existing plant by one-third.

St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold said the extension is a positive sign that Shell is considering local concerns.

“From the council’s point of view, (water recycling) was our expectation from the get-go,” he said. “The township nor the area wants a poor development, so I’m glad they’re not rushing into it.”

This is the second time Shell has extended the environmental assessment, which was originally scheduled to be completed in April.

The company has optioned about 2,400 hectares (nine square miles) of property south of Courtright for an upgrading and refining facility to process heavy crude from Alberta.

A final decision on whether to proceed with the project won’t be made until late 2009.

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