Oil industry leaders to talk opportunities in Sarnia: protest planned at City Hall

Walter Petryschuk wants to see a new refinery built in Sarnia to process oil being taken from the Alberta oil sands.

The associate at the Boman Center in Sarnia is one of the people behind a two-day conference in Sarnia starting Tuesday called Bitumen – Adding Value; Canada’s National Opportunity. Up to 150 people are expected to talk about the possibilities of refining some of the crude in Canada instead of shipping it to other countries through pipelines to be turned into gasoline and other oil projects.

Petryschuk has been studying the industry and believes Canada is watching opportunity leave through the pipelines. “The amount of money that will be leaving this country at the end of this decade (because crude is not being processed) is $60 billion a year,” Petryschuk says. “We should be looking at this $60 bill and year and some of that should be accruing in Canada.”

Petryschuk says it is unrealistic to expect Canada could refine all of the crude being found but “even half – $30 billion – that’s going to create other jobs and other investments; if you use an economic benefit multiple factor of four, that’s $150 billion a year.”

The conference is bringing together producers from Alberta, and labour and industry leaders to talk about the possibilities. George Mallay of Sarnia Lambton Economic Development says companies are already capitalizing on the growth of the oil sands. “But if we could ever attract an upgrader her, that would be the holy grail,” he says. “But even building modules for western Canada and consulting, there would be opportunity there.”

But not everyone sees it as opportunity. ASAP – Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines – has organized a protest in conjunction with the conference. ASAP spokesperson Vanessa Gray says the whole oil sands project is “so toxic and it is affecting communities in Alberta, and anywhere the pipelines have problems like Arkansas; I don’t want that to happen in Sarnia.

“The whole process of this conference is just a way selling it.”

Gray doesn’t blame people for being interested in possible economic benefit but she fears the more jobs in environmental cleanup will be created as the oil sands industry expands. “We can’t just go along with things all along, especially when this area is so industrial already….we really have to wake up.”

Petraschuk says disagrees. “If we build an upgrader with the latest technologies and take into all the environmental aspect it would be a benefit…it would have all the modern technology,” he says.

And he adds Ontarians are using the products made from oil already, importing $30 billion of chemicals a year. “We’re buying a pile; we should be making more of that stuff in Canada.”

– Heather Wright