David Black, the oil refinery, Adrian Dix, and China-U.S. relations
There's a lot of money to be made in promoting the oil industry.
All you have to do is look at the big Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers advertisements in the Vancouver Sun, not to mention all those retail-gasoline messages on various television stations.
I'm reading a terrific book called Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by U.S. journalist Steve Coll.
He points out that there's little difference at the pumps in terms of what goes into people's gas tanks. But there are incredible efforts to market oil companies' product. It's done by trying to convey some great advantage in choosing one corporate giant's oil.
Private Empire highlights challenges that companies like ExxonMobil are facing from state-owned oil companies, which are locking up supplies around the world.
If the large corporations can't replace their reserves, it can have a devastating impact on their share price.
It's a big-money game. And B.C. newspaper baron David Black's proposal to build a $13-billion refinery near Kitimat raises intriguing questions.
Given his financial interest in the outcome of the Northern Gateway Project regulatory process, how will he respond to any of his newspaper editors who question Enbridge's environmental record?
He has claimed that he won't interfere and that editorial integrity is important to him, but let's get real. This is a $13-billion proposal and this is the same publisher who prevented staff from writing positive editorials about the Nisga'a treaty.
Meanwhile, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has come out swinging against Enbridge's proposal. Bitumen from the Enbridge pipeline would be the feedstock for Black's refinery. Does this mean we can expect the Black Press newspaper chain to launch a jihad against the B.C. NDP?
Premier Christy Clark has started demanding that B.C. get its fair share before she'll support Enbridge's proposal. Given Black's clout in communities across the province, will she back off on her complaints for fear that the newspaper tycoon might throw his editorial support behind the B.C. Conservatives in the next election?
And does Black's support for a refinery in Kitimat mean a bonanza of oil-company ads for his B.C. newspapers? That might help him deal with concerns from Standard & Poor's about his company's financial future.
And what about the geopolitical implications? I've written in the past that China and the United States are competing for access to tar-sands oil.
The B.C. NDP's intense opposition to the Enbridge proposal is probably warmly welcomed by the Obama administration. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper's eagerness to ship tar-sands oil to Asia has made him a fast friend of China and alienated Canada's U.S. ally to the south.
By proposing a refinery in Kitimat, Black has also come down squarely on the side of China in the international race for oil. And that's not going to endear him to the U.S. State Department or to Midwest U.S. oil refiners, who currently have a monopoly on relatively cheap bitumen from Alberta.
Keep in mind that Black owns significant newspaper assets south of the border, including daily papers in Ohio, California, and Hawaii.
U.S. refiners will be paying $20 per barrel more for Canadian oil if the Enbridge pipeline is approved because they'll have to compete with China for the resource. And they may end up blaming the Canadian newspaper publisher for costing them billions of dollars if it turns out that Black's proposed refinery ends up tilting the table in Enbridge's favour.
The B.C. pipeline story seems to be getting more interesting every day.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.