Come By Chance refinery owners file court action to block release of $180M environmental deal

·3 min read
The Come By Chance oil refinery site is pictured in a September file image. The owners have said that Tank 106, in the foreground, does not pose an environmental concern. Government officials have said the refinery has an on-site secondary containment system designed to capture and contain any product, if a tank should leak or fail. (CBC - image credit)
The Come By Chance oil refinery site is pictured in a September file image. The owners have said that Tank 106, in the foreground, does not pose an environmental concern. Government officials have said the refinery has an on-site secondary containment system designed to capture and contain any product, if a tank should leak or fail. (CBC - image credit)

The new owners of the Come By Chance refinery are going to court to block the release of an agreement with the provincial government that could put Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers on the hook for up to $180 million in environmental liabilities.

CBC News had filed an access-to-information request for those records six months ago.

In a recent report, the province's information and privacy commissioner said the document should be made public, leaving a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court challenge as the last option for the owners to stop that from happening.

"We have decided to participate in this process and appeal the decision to protect confidential business information that is commercially sensitive and critical to the competitiveness of our operations and the ongoing refinery conversion which we will complete later this year," Braya Renewable Fuels said in a statement to CBC News.

The document in question is a memorandum of understanding related to a taxpayer-backed environmental indemnity at the Come By Chance refinery site.

In late November, Cresta Fund Management announced it had acquired a controlling interest in the Come By Chance refinery. It was rechristened as Braya Renewable Fuels.

The half-century-old Come By Chance operation is now being converted to produce renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.

Previous owner Silverpeak is a minority partner in Braya, while keeping control of the part of the business that imports and distributes fuel like gasoline into the province.

The refinery had been shuttered since March 2020, in the wake of COVID-19-related economic turmoil.

To facilitate the Cresta-Silverpeak deal, Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers are taking on a new environmental indemnity to cover certain potential pre-existing problems at the refinery site, capped at $180 million.

When the deal was announced in late November, Premier Andrew Furey pointed to the importance of the $180-million cap and "upside protection" in the environmental indemnity deal.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Government officials have indicated the province's exposure could decline over time based on the profitability of the refinery and logistics sides of the operation.

But the province hasn't provided details about how it would work, so CBC News filed an access-to-information request for the agreement — a matter that is now going before the courts.

The current situation involving the environmental deal at Come By Chance is in stark contrast to what happened the last time the refinery was sold, in 2014.

A similar agreement was reached on environmental indemnities eight years ago.

That entire document and 120 pages of schedules and supporting information — including the business proposal and spending plans — were posted on the government's website, where they have since remained accessible.

At the time, the government also pledged to publicly release an environmental assessment of the site.

That report — which was due within a year — was supposed to gauge the level of contamination there.

But it was never completed, and the government has since yo-yoed on its previous transparency pledge.

Last year, Department of Energy officials said the report about environmental contamination "likely should be considered the confidential property" of the owners.

As part of the deal announced in November, new environmental site assessments are due by mid-2023.

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