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Refinery backers downplay impact of U.S. mayors

Refinery backers downplay impact of U.S. mayors


For The Observer

A resolution by nearly 1,000 U.S. mayors to reduce the use of fuel made with oil from Alberta’s oil sands is a symbolic act that will have little impact on the possible Shell refinery in Sarnia, company and city officials say.

The decision, which was passed June 23 at the U.S. mayors’ annual convention, urged municipalities to reduce their carbon footprint by discontinuing use of fuel produced through unconventional means.

However, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said he doubts many U.S. cities will follow through completely on the resolution.

“Municipal resolutions like this are a lot like a kiss from your granddad. They’re nice, but they don’t necessarily mean that much,” he said.

He said the convention’s statement was more of a symbolic act to show they are willing to confront climate change.

“I don’t think the message is out of sync, but a new refinery has to be built. It’s a practical reality,” he said.

A new refinery hasn’t been built in more than a generation.

Shell Canada spokesperson Heather Cooper said it is far too early to predict whether the ban would impact the proposed refinery, which will process heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands.

“The project’s in its infancy,” said Cooper, public consultation co-ordinator for the expansion project, adding that a final decision on whether to proceed with the project won’t be made until late 2009.

The resolution took aim at Alberta’s oil sands, saying, tar sands production emits about three time the carbon dioxide pollution per barrel as conventional oil.

Cooper said the mayors’ perception of the pollution caused by processing the oil sands is exaggerated.

Greenhouse gases released during the extraction period is only responsible for 15 to 20 per cent of fuel’s overall emissions, she said.

“Shell is certainly concerned about climate change and (carbon dioxide) management … (Oil sand) production phases are more intense than conventional means, but we don’t believe it’s three times more,” she said.

Steve Arnold, mayor of St. Clair Township, said the refinery would be an important part of local energy production, which will also include renewable projects such as a solar farm.

But it’s the responsibility of the county’s citizens to ensure the proposed Shell facility is a sustainable and environmentally neutral as possible, he said.

“We have a crucial role to play here,” he said.

Despite his hopes that Sarnia will introduce more renewable and green energy sites, Arnold said the refinery will fill an important role during the meantime.

“There’s going to be a transition time because there are no silver bullets with green energy.”


With files from The Canadian Press

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