VANCOUVER - A British Columbia newspaper mogul has injected himself into the debate over the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, revealing a proposal Friday for a $13-billion refinery to export processed fuels rather than oil-sands crude to Asia.

David Black's plan prompted immediate skepticism from First Nations, politicians and observers. They noted the proposed refinery in Kitimat, B.C., does nothing to solve the environmental concerns of the pipeline and pointed to Black's own admissions that he has no investors, no confirmed buyers and no commitment from Northern Gateway proponent Enbridge (TSX:ENB) to actually access the raw bitumen.

Still, the addition of Black — a high-profile businessman whose company Black Press Group Ltd. owns newspapers in Western Canada and the United States — brings a new dimension to a debate that has consumed B.C. politics, and it could spark a renewed discussion about whether Canada should be refining Alberta crude itself.

"Do I think it will change the debate on the pipeline? Yes I think I do," Black told reporters in Vancouver as he detailed his proposal.

"We all need to discuss this thing and make up our mind together, so I'm hoping this will jump start a change in the debate. Rather than just saying, 'Can't see anything in this for us, let's say no,' instead of that, let's say, 'How can we work with this, work it to our advantage, get a lot out of it and solve any potential problems at the same time?'"

Black said he's preparing to submit a proposal for an environmental assessment that would see a massive, 10-square-kilometre facility in Kitimat on B.C.'s northern coast near the Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii. He plans to pay for the assessment but rely on investors to fund the refinery.

The facility, as Black envisions it, would be the final stop along the Northern Gateway pipeline between Alberta's oil sands and the B.C. coast. Rather than shipping that crude oil to Asian markets to be processed, which is the current plan, Black wants to process it in B.C. into fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel.

Black said doing so would eliminate the need to transport oil sands bitumen — a thick, black substance similar to oily asphalt — along B.C.'s coast. Instead, he argued processed fuels are much safer because they quickly evaporate and would be easier to contain and clean up in the event of a spill.

He also said the project would create thousands of jobs — 6,000 during construction and 3,000 when it's up and running — and provide the provincial government with much-needed revenue.

Black said he's raised the issue with Enbridge and the federal and provincial governments, but acknowledged he has so far received no formal support.

Enbridge released a statement that did little more than acknowledge Black's proposal while noting the company is currently focused on ongoing National Energy Board hearings for the Northern Gateway pipeline.

"Mr. Black had shared details of his proposal to us for our information," said the statement. "Our focus remains on the regulatory process reviewing our application for Northern Gateway."

Black said he met with Premier Christy Clark nearly a year ago and has met with provincial officials on other occasions since then. Clark was on holiday and unavailable to confirm the details of that meeting, but her energy minister issued a statement saying he would like to know more.

"Like all major projects, this would have to successfully complete an environmental review. We look forward to learning more details about the proposal," Rich Coleman said in the statement.

The B.C. government's own position on the pipeline could scuttle the refinery idea altogether. Clark has issued a list of demands for her government's support, namely a larger share of the energy royalties associated with the project.

The pipeline project has also faced fierce resistance from First Nations groups and opposition politicians, none of whom seemed convinced by Black's proposal.

Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, a group that represents several aboriginal communities along the West Coast, confronted Black at his news conference.

"The oil you're going to be sending out there and the quantity of ships and the air quality you're going to be affecting in this geographic area are going to have the same results as sending crude oil offshore," said Sterritt, who also criticized Black for not consulting First Nations before making his announcements.

"I suggest that if you really want to do business in the north, you should really be out there talking to First Nations before you start making announcements."

Black said he's had informal discussions with two First Nations whose territory would be affected by a refinery. The proposed refinery site is on the traditional territory of the Kitselas First Nation, while the marine terminal is in the traditional territory of the Haisla First Nation.

Haisla Chief Ellis Ross confirmed he's spoken with Black, though he hadn't received any formal proposal.

Ross has firmly opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline over the risks of a potential oil spill off the coast. He agreed shipping processed fuel would be safer than bitumen, but he said there were still many unanswered questions about Black's plan.

"I still have a lot of questions about it, but there's one thing I do know for sure: our people will not agree to ship bitumen or crude through our territory," Ross said in an interview.

The federal and provincial New Democrats each reached for an obvious pun, both dismissing Black's proposal as nothing more than a "pipe dream." Critics for both parties stressed Black does not have any investors, buyers or commitments from Enbridge.

Energy analyst Roger McKnight of Oshawa-based En-Pro International Inc. raised doubts that Black's refinery idea will ever get off the ground.

McKnight said even if the Northern Gateway pipeline is approved — far from certain given the political climate in B.C. — he doesn't think it would be economically feasible, particularly if Black's goal is to target Asian markets.

He noted major oil companies have been shutting down refineries in Canada, not opening new ones, and he said the Chinese are primarily interested in raw crude to process themselves.

"It doesn't take them 10 years to build a refinery (in China), they can have it up and running in two years," McKnight said in an interview.

"Why pay a refinery to refine the stuff when you could always do yourself and you could probably do it at a lower cost?"

There have been no new refineries built in Canada since 1984. The last refinery built in the United States was in the 1970s.

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    The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.

  • Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001

    This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.

  • Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.

  • Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001

    Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.

  • Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.

  • Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.

  • Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010

    So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.

  • Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005

    The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.

  • Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005

    Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.

  • Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.

  • Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010

    Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.

  • Tar Pit #3

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  • <strong>NEXT -----> Craziest Pictures of the oilsands</strong>

  • Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.

  • Tailings pond in winter.

  • Syncrude upgrader.

  • Dry tailings.

  • The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.

  • Oilsands at night.

  • A tailings pond.

  • Black Cliff in the Alberta oilsands.

  • Oilsands upgrader in winter.

  • Oilsands extraction.

  • Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:

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  • Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

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  • This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

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  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

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  • A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.

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  • Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Next: Alberta Oil Spills

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  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.

  • CFB Cold Lake

    As of early August 2013, more than 1.1 million litres of bitumen had been pulled from marshlands, bushes and waterways.

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    Although CNRL could not say when the leak may finally be stopped, it estimates it will likely cost more than $40 million to clean up.

  • <em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>

  • Plains Midstream

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  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boat passes by a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Debris pushes up against a boom as it stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.