Proponents of Alberta's Industrial Heartland are taking their campaign to the airwaves in a bid to get more bitumen upgraded in Alberta.
The “refine it where we mine it” campaign launched last week and includes a group of organizations that all want to see more oilsands bitumen refined here in the province. The group is using radio and print ads, as well as an Internet campaign to get its message out.
The Alberta Industrial Heartland Association is leading the group, but is joined by local municipalities and several building groups including the Merit Contractors Association and the Alberta Building Trades.
Richard Wassill, chairman of the building trades group, said they don't want to see long-term jobs and value shipped away along with raw bitumen.
“When you build a refinery, there is ongoing work for operators and maintenance people. You are adding value here as opposed to shipping it down to Texas.”
Several major pipeline projects have proceeded over the last few years, while the upgrader projects that were proposed several years ago have largely stalled. The pipeline projects can transport raw bitumen to the United States where refineries are being converted to upgrade it to heavy oil.
Wassill said the decision to move bitumen down south can be a decade-long decision.
“We have one shot at the bitumen. Our fear is that the trend is going toward shipping it to other countries and upgrading it there.”
Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney has long pushed for the provincial government to do more to encourage upgrading in Alberta.
He said the campaign aims to make the public aware of the lost opportunities.
“Most Albertans, if you ask, are assuming that we are getting this industry and we are not. They aren’t aware of this shift and that is what we are trying to make them aware of.”
Rigney said right now the group doesn't have a specific initiative it wants to see the government pursue, but it wants the government more actively involved in promoting upgrading in Alberta.
The government's Bitumen Royalty in Kind program recently announced it would provide Northwest Upgrading with 75,000 barrels of bitumen, which has helped jumpstart the company’s development.
Wassill said that program is great, but the government could be doing more.
“We are onside with them on this. We totally applaud the bitumen in kind program and the fact that it could bring in the Northwest upgrader. We are all for that. We would just like to see more.”
Rigney said the province was instrumental in getting the oilsands industry under development in the first place and it only makes sense that it support the upgrading industry as well.
“Look at how important government has been to this industry in the past.”
An upgrading industry, Rigney said, would provide for hundred of millions in corporate taxes, jobs that would provide income taxes and would lead to other spin-off industries that would only expand the benefit to Alberta.
He said the province is too reliant on oilsands royalties and this could help stabilize provincial finances.
“We can’t rely on commodities because it is all boom or bust. We went from eight upgraders to zero and those are the booms and busts that you see in a market like that.”