|A refinery in Strathcona, outside Edmonton.|
From Wikipedia, so it's not even real stealing this time.
Alberta Oil Magazine has an interesting article about why it doesn't make much sense to build bitumen upgraders in Alberta, and why that's not necessarily a bad thing. To summarize, upgrading margins have been consistently thin because the light and heavy oil price differential is so small, and plants can be built on the US gulf coast for half as much, a figure I think is pretty staggering. Cost overruns are frequent and large, particularly when the industry tries to do many "mega-projects" at once because qualified labour gets rarer and more expensive.
As for why upgrading outside Alberta is not necessarily a bad thing, the argument the author makes is essentially one of comparative advantage. The workers needed to make a 100,000 barrel per day refinery could be used to make 300,000 barrels per day of oil sands projects. Any construction workers put on refinery duty will be taken off of extraction duty, particularly in a labour market as stretched as Alberta's. And finally, shale oil from places like the Bakken in North Dakota is competing with upgraded bitumen, driving down the margins of refining. Because these margins are so much thinner than extraction, and because royalties are not applied to upgrading, Alberta makes much more money focussing its capital and labour on oil sands extraction rather than upgrading.
All this of course flies in the face of conventional wisdom, including the party positions of the Liberals and NDP. I thought it was a very interesting article and well worth the read.