Frank McKenna, the perennial ambassador.

The last time we talked to former Premier of New Brunswick Frank McKenna, he was doing an ambassadorial job for the TD Bank. We talked briefly about a comment he made supporting the various pipelines for Alberta’s tar sands crude oil. Judging by that and a more recent op-ed penned for the New York Times, he also seems to be an ambassador for the proposed tar sands pipelines from Alberta.

It is believed that his thesis this time is that the Irving Oil Refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick could be easily adapted to refining Alberta tar sands crude into oil products for the Canadian market. There is certainly enough effort being put into getting permission to reverse the old Enbridge pipelines that have previously been used to bring crude oil from Saint John up to Ontario’s Sarnia refineries. Whether Irving Oil is eager to process this bitumen from Alberta is another matter.

But the first step is to get permission to move this heavy crude through older pipelines at a higher temperature and at higher pressure. There is a long line of environmentally conscious Canadian citizens who are very sceptical of the soundness of this scheme. As has been mentioned before, you only get one spill with tar sands crude. It cannot be mopped up. The crude from tar sands does not float like normal oil. It sinks in water, it enters the soil, it gets into the water table, and where it settles, it stays.

When talking to Frank McKenna about the environmental problems with tar sands, he seemed to understand the need to refine the tar sands product to a chemical state where it can emulate oil. And yet now he is proposing in the New York Times article that the refining be done in Saint John. The spokespeople for Irving in Saint John agree that the refinery there could be modified to process the tar sands product but you get the impression that there is some hesitation in that agreement.

Not only pipelines can be reversed. Off-loading systems for oil tankers in the Port of Saint John can also be reversed and the tar sands crude can be sent elsewhere in the world to be processed into synthetic oil for other markets. Is that not the real reason for the Alberta product being sent to Saint John?

We can ask the ambassador.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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