TC Energy's Keystone pipeline facility in Hardisty, Alberta.Jeff McIntosh / The Associated Press

Let us lay ourselves down a while and rest from this ceaseless doom ‘n’ gloom.

Let’s have a chat with Ian MacGregor — the most creative and visionary mind in Alberta’s oilpatch, who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

MacGregor, through his company North West Refining, is a 50 per cent partner in the $10-billion Sturgeon Refinery located between Redwater and Fort Saskatchewan.

He has so much skin in the game, it is amazing he has any hide left.

And he’s been beat up real good.

The refinery is brilliant, the first to convert Alberta bitumen (currently worth $30 a barrel) directly to diesel fuel (worth around $80 a barrel) to the tune of 40,000 barrels a day.


More important, the refinery has enabled the building of the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line. All its CO2 emissions are liquified under pressure, carried 240 kilometres to be forever stored in Enhance Energy’s immense underground geological formations.

For MacGregor, however, it’s been a rocky road.

The refinery cost twice as much to build as was originally planned, from $5 to $10 billion. The Alberta government is a de-facto partner and will be waiting many years to get its money back. Once the refinery was built, a German-made crucial component refused to work properly. It has taken two years for the refinery to make diesel from bitumen as it is now doing. Then there’s the oil-price yo-yo.

Beat up, but still firmly in the game, MacGregor presents as compelling a case for “de-carbonizing” (i.e. allowing no CO2 into the air) made-in-Alberta oil as I have ever heard.

Here’s an (edited) Q and A with the Oracle of Redwater:

Ian, is there a future for oil in this climate-change world?

“A third of the world’s oil reserves are in the oilsands. I have never seen any global energy projection that didn’t include oil, especially when the Third World wants the same living standards as we have. And no other country is as good and reliable a supplier of oil as we are.”

Why are you so bullish on “de-carbonized” oil?

“Because carbon-tax penalties, plus new rules, regulations and incentives will make de-carbonizing oil more economic than emitting CO2 into the air.

“Because more states and countries are adopting low-carbon fuel standards, making it impossible to sell oil not de-carbonized at source. Penalties would cost more than the oil itself.”

Why are you so confident in Alberta as a global leader in de-carbonization?

“We now have the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line! It’s the QEII Highway of CO2 capture and storage. Secondary roads (pipelines) can be built to all the major CO2 emitters to pick up their carbon, too. We have infinite underground CO2 storage, plus it can be used to replenish depleted oil wells in central Alberta.”

Big Oil says it is still cheaper to ship dil-bit (bitumen diluted so it will flow) to the massive American refineries in the U.S.A. than to refine it at home.

“For now. All those refineries are 50 years old, or older. They will need replacing in the not-distant future and will likely have no choice but to be carbon-free.

“In Alberta, we have unique geological formations for the infinite storage of CO2, we have the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, we have the expertise to build with 100 per cent carbon capture. Construction costs are way down. Why not build new refineries here?”

Because of limited pipeline capacity?

 “Which brings me back to the value-added argument.  I am not optimistic about getting new pipelines. We may have lost that argument. But we can replace low-value bitumen being shipped in our existing pipelines with higher-valued, de-carbonized, refined products — like diesel or more upgraded synthetic crude oil. Diesel can be shipped by rail to many customers besides refineries, including both coasts and overseas.”

You are so optimistic about the future of CO2-cleansed oil. But we are blocked at every turn by anti-fossil-fuel environmentalists and “virtuous”  governments.

”Those people are like the ones that come to your door loaded with pamphlets. They will never change their minds. There’s no point in arguing.

“We have to go to the real world, the global market, convince the buyers, tell them over and over, that our oil is cheap, reliable, and produces no CO2 emissions in its making.