Move Oil by Tanker Rail Cars or Pipelines?
Alf Nunweiler, a past CN Rail employee for 42 years, suggests in this recent letter to the Edmonton Journal’s editor that it would be faster, cheaper and more environmentally responsible to move bitumen from Alberta to our west coast by rail than by pipeline. He points to the difficulty in repairing pipelines if they leak, as rationale for his view.
Rail companies in North America, particularly CN Rail, promote the shipping of various oil products by rail to ease the burden on pipelines. At the same time, they suggest that moving petroleum products by rail is safer and has a lower impact on the environment than do pipelines, such as Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to B.C. Railroaded certainly agrees that the recent spate of pipeline leaks in North America has had and continues to have major negative impacts on the environment; however, shipping petroleum products by rail is most definitely not any safer or less impactful on the environment.
The history of, and recent skyrocketing increase in, derailment accidents is clear evidence that railways are not safer than pipelines when it comes to transporting oil products or other toxic products. Who can forget petroleum spill disasters such as the major CN Rail spill in 2005 at Lake Wabamun near Edmonton? The derailment of 43 cars resulted in 1.3 million litres of heavy bunker C fuel and 700,000 litres of Imperial Pole Treatment Oil quickly spreading across Lake Wabamun, killing hundreds of fish and birds. The lake has yet to fully recover from this disaster which made the international news.
What about the CN Ultratrain spill and explosion in Quebec that killed 2 people in 1999? And, what about the many other CN derailments that have spilled petroleum and other toxic chemicals onto land and into rivers? Nine CN Rail cars flipped off the tracks near Squamish, B.C. in 2005, spilling 40,000 litres of toxic caustic soda into the Cheakamus River, killing about 500,000 trout, salmon and other fish. B.C. Environment staff said the spill decimated the river’s fish population.
Barely a week goes by when there isn’t at least one derailment somewhere in Canada. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada repeatedly criticizes and warns CN to clean up their derailment and general safety record, but the number of derailments continues to grow.
See this letter to the Edmonton Journal editor for more examples of CN’s abysmal derailment record and reason for not shipping petroleum or other toxic products by rail. The letter also highlights concerns by Strathcona County residents about a rail yard recently constructed by CN, Cando Contracting Ltd. and Imperial Oil to store over 200 petroleum tank cars right next to two protected wildlife conservation areas and homes. Also, see this link for many more examples of CN derailments in Canada and the U.S.
In summary, shipping bitumen, other petroleum products or other toxic chemicals by rail is by no means safer than moving these products by pipeline.