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Mountains are reflected in a lake near Prince Rupert, B.C., in this file photo.

Kevin Van Paassen

A Vancouver-based consortium is proposing a $10-billion refinery for Canada's West Coast, the second such plan aimed at winning support for processing and exporting petroleum products manufactured from the bitumen in Alberta's oil sands.

A group called Pacific Future Energy wants to build a massive plant that could eventually process one million barrels a day, constructed in 200,000-barrel-a-day modules. The $10-billion price tag would cover just the first phase, which could be located in Kitimat, B.C., although proponents prefer Prince Rupert, to the north.

The aim is to develop a "near-net-zero" bitumen refinery using an environmentally friendly design powered by natural gas and renewables and employing carbon-capture technology. The group said it will concentrate on seeking support and partnership from First Nations.

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The backers say it will create 3,000 permanent jobs, and offer the energy industry new markets in Asia while addressing British Columbians' fears of bitumen spills in coastal waters by shipping lighter refined products instead. Worries about such risks are central to much of the opposition to projects that would send Alberta's heavy crude to the Pacific.

It is the second West Coast refinery proposal following a similar plan floated by newspaper publisher David Black that would cost $21-billion, plus $8-billion for a pipeline and $3-billion for infrastructure and tankers. Mr. Black is seeking billions of dollars in loan guarantees from Ottawa as a way to advance the project, which would be located in Kitimat.

"You have talkers and you have actors. What we've announced today, we're talking about what we've already done for the past six months, rather than what we plan to do," said Samer Salameh, the chairman of Pacific Future Energy who also manages telecom and business development for Grupo Salinas, a multibillion-dollar Mexican conglomerate.

"We formed the company in January. Today, in June, we're announcing act and fact. We have an office, we have 12 people on staff, we have an engineering firm which is one of the top in the world already doing predesign on the refinery. We have started initial consultations with the affected First Nations."

The proposal comes days before an expected federal approval of Enbridge Inc.'s $7.9-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Kitimat from Alberta. The project faces staunch opposition from B.C. aboriginal groups and environmentalists. Some First Nations have promised legal action aimed at stopping the project, should it be approved.

Regardless of the outcome, the refinery proposals face an uphill battle, given high labour and materials costs, lack of experience building major energy projects, major financing requirements and, so far, little buy-in from the oil patch.

Mr. Salameh conceded that the Asian buyers would prefer access to raw bitumen to fill up their own refining capacity.

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"They want raw. We don't want to sell them raw. It's not a matter of what they want, it's a matter of what we want to sell," he said. "We believe it would be unconscionable to ship raw bitumen out of B.C. waters because of the risks to the environment."

Other members of the management group are: chief executive officer Robert Delamar, who has worked in the technology and venture capital sectors; Jamie Carroll, a government and regulatory affairs specialist; Jeffrey Copenace, who worked as deputy chief of staff to former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo; and Mark Marissen, a long-time Liberal Party strategist who is also the ex-husband of B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

Mr. Black said Mr. Salameh and Mr. Marissen paid him a visit last autumn. "I showed them all of our plans and all of our projections and so forth, but they wanted to take control of our project," Mr. Black said in an interview. "They went away and obviously have done some thinking about it and have come back to do their own proposal."

Pacific Future said it had secured funding from international partners for the early stages of the proposal and envisages debt financing and perhaps an initial public offering to finance major development. It said it had begun a prefeasibility study as well as consultations with First Nations.

However, Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, a coalition of B.C. communities, said it is hard for him to take the latest proposal seriously. "It's got about as much chance as the Calvin Helin thing, which is about zero," he said, comparing the Pacific Future proposal to an oil pipeline proposed in April by Mr. Helin's Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings, which is aimed at winning over aboriginal support. He said the problem is shipment of heavy oil across the province, and without supply, no oil refineries can be built on the West Coast.

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