In an unexpected about-face, the Quebec government has gone ahead and authorized the demolition of Shell Canada Ltd.’s east-end Montreal refinery.
Critics of last year’s controversial refinery shutdown said they were shocked to learn of the decision Monday.
Moreover, they said the announcement contradicts comments Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau made during a parliamentary debate less than three weeks ago.
On June 9, the minister said she would not make a decision about dismantling the refinery until she had received a report from a parliamentary committee charged with studying the issue.
The Parti Québecois MNA for Pointe aux Trembles, Nicole Léger, expressed anger over Normandeau’s unanticipated announcement.
“I’m furious,” she said in an interview. “I’m angry because the minister lied.”
She and other members of the committee had been studying the issue for eight months, she explained, adding that the minister had reassured her she would take their concerns into consideration before coming to a final decision.
Shell shut down the refinery last year and converted part of the facility into an oil distribution terminal.
Léger said losing the refinery, which is located in her riding, will result in a direct and indirect economic loss of $240 million for the local economy.
She warned that it will also make it difficult for Quebec to procure a secure supply of oil if needed in the future.
The Canadian Press reported that Normandeau said in a communiqué that the province’s supply will be met by the two working refineries that remain here, leaving Quebec with a surplus of more than 40,000 barrels daily.
“Over the past few months, the various analyses led our government to conclude that the closure of the Shell refinery would in no way compromise Quebec’s supply of petroleum products,” Normandeau said in a statement.
Canadian Press also reported that Normandeau and Economic Development Minister Clément Gignac said the decision to approve the dismantling of the refinery would help diversify the economy of East End of Montreal.
“Along with the local players, business people and representatives of the various levels of government, we want to re-launch the East End of Montreal,” Gignac said. “The government plans to support, through subsidy programs, all credible investment projects that could contribute to this economic diversification.”
In an email interview, Shell spokesperson Nicole Belval said the firm plans to start dismantling the facility this summer.
The entire job — including the decontamination, dismantling and remediation — is expected to take seven to eight years, she said.
Belval said Shell will keep the part of the land where the distribution terminal is located, but that the firm is working with the city of Montreal East on plans to eventually use the remaining land for other purposes.
“It’s a sad decision,” said Jean-Claude Rocheleau, spokesperson for the union that represents the 800 workers who once worked full-time at the refinery.
About 40 people now work at fuel storage terminal, he said. Another 3,500 indirect jobs related to refinery byproducts are also affected, he added.
Rocheleau said his union plans to contest the government’s decision.
“But when you go against a company that has that kind of money, and also go against a government that doesn’t want to take the side of the workers, its pretty hard to fight,” he said.