B.C. media mogul says funds in place for Kitimat oil refinery
Newspaper publisher David Black speaks about his proposal to build a refinery in Kitimat, during a news conference in Vancouver, in a August 17, 2012 file photo. Black says a group of U.S. investors has committed funding for his plan to build a $25-billion oil refinery near the city of Kitimat on the province's northern coast. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013 12:45PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 6, 2013 5:39PM EST
VANCOUVER -- B.C. newspaper mogul David Black says a group of investors has committed financing for his plan to build a $25-billion oil refinery project on the province's northern coast in a deal that would be one of the largest private developments in B.C. history if it goes through.
Black announced in Vancouver on Wednesday he is on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding in the coming weeks with a consortium of investors.
The deal is for debt financing, not an equity investment, but it's a boost for the project that saw some skepticism from within the oil and gas industry when Black announced the plan last fall.
"How solid is it? I would say it's 100 per cent because in this case, the financiers are very anxious to help get the refined fuels from Canada," Black said in a speech to the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm sure we'll get through to the finish, I'm sure that money will be there."
The consortium of investors was put together by Richard Cooke, senior managing director of Switzerland-based Oppenheimer Investments Group.
"We have the investors together. We have the commitment," Cooke said. "I can't tell you who they are yet but we'll have documents signed in the next 30 days.
"We have verbal commitments on funding the whole project -- that's pipelines, shipping, whatever's needed."
Cooke said the investors will sign long-term contracts of 10 to 20 years, but they will not be partners in the project. The refinery and all its accoutrements will be 100 per cent B.C.-owned, he said.
"This is totally debt funding... debt financing," Cooke said.
Kitimat Clean Ltd. would include a new oil refinery to be built 25 kilometres north of Kitimat, B.C., to process 550,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands.
The projected capital cost of the refinery is $16 billion. The plan also includes a $6-billion oil pipeline and a gas pipeline costing $2 billion. It may also incorporate its own new ocean-going tankers at a cost of $1 billion, Black said.
The owner of Black Press originally had plans for a refinery at the terminus of the controversial Enbridge (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline, saying he hoped the plan would shift the debate about that project.
Now Black says: "I believe we're going to have to start again on that pipeline."
He's met with Enbridge and is still open to working with them, but the original Northern Gateway plan likely will have to be reworked or scrapped altogether, Black said.
Black said the bitumen will arrive at the proposed refinery either by pipeline or by rail, though he pointed out that rail is not as safe as pipelines.
There has been and still is little interest in the oil patch for a refinery, Black said. But building a refinery in Kitimat rather than northern Alberta trims $10 billion from the costs, due largely to the higher labour costs.
The oil and gas players in Canada are happy to sell the oil to the proposed refinery.
"No problem there," Black said, adding that the reality of B.C.'s tanker concerns may be the deciding factor.
"They (those in the oil patch) keep hoping that B.C.'s going to come around and say, 'Well okay, we'll take the temporary construction jobs on the pipeline and you go ahead and ship that bitumen offshore.' But I've been telling them now for a long time, B.C.'s not going to come around on that."
Pressure is mounting for Canada to diversify its oil markets. Currently, the U.S. is our only customer, and Canadian producers lose an estimated $30 a barrel because of the supply-demand imbalance -- $25 billion a year, according to Black.
Kitimat Clean still needs buyers, regulatory approval, agreements with First Nations -- the list goes on. He hinted in his speech that agreements for the sale of the refined products are also imminent.
Kai Li, the W. Maurice Young chair in finance at UBC's Sauder School of Business, said the announcement means Black will have the money to pursue what would be the largest private development in B.C. history -- once the backers have signed on the dotted line.
"It's really a vote of confidence in the oil and gas industry in Canada," Li said. "It's a very big deal. In recent years there's not many acquisitions of that size."
Kitimat Clean will be the first refinery in the world to employ a new refining technology patented by Expander Energy, of Calgary. The system will abandon coking in favour of gasification, cutting greenhouse emissions in half from seven million tonnes of CO2 annually to about 3.5 million tonnes.
That will increase capital costs by $3 billion, but Black said his motivation for pushing the project has never been profit.
"I didn't get into this refinery business to try to make more money for myself in a new industry at the age of 65. I have enough wealth and I enjoy the newspaper business very much," he told the business audience.
A sailor, Black said he doesn't want the B.C. coast threatened by shipping raw bitumen in tankers.
"As my daughter said, 'Dad let's keep this refinery in our back yard so we can build it right and help look after the planet."'
Black said the facility could be in service by 2020.