Canadian Manufacturing

Alberta-B.C. joint study to explore viability of moving oil by rail

Spokesperson for environmental group ForestEthics called news of inter-provincial report "underhanded"

January 6, 2014  by Steven Chua, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER—A report has been handed in to the British Columbia and Alberta governments examining the idea of transporting oil sands crude via rail if proposed pipelines don’t get the green light, government documents show.

It’s an idea the environmental group ForestEthics calls “underhanded.”

It’s a “backdoor way for industry to bring tankers to the coast without the same sort of public oversight or public process that we’ve had around the Enbridge pipeline or would have around the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” said Ben West, campaign director for ForestEthics.

A joint provincial working group was announced by premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford, of B.C. and Alberta, respectively, in July to develop recommendations related to energy exports and the opening of new export markets for products like bitumen for the two provinces, including pipeline and rail transport.


“Rail can be considered a viable alternative to pipeline movement based on costs of transport,” the terms of reference for the group states. “If pipelines are not developed, rail will step into the void to deliver bitumen to the West Coast.”

West said the report raises safety questions, especially in light of two recent high-profile train accidents.

Oil transport by rail has become a contentious topic after a train containing crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Que., in July, killing 47 people, and another train exploded without injuries last month in North Dakota.

“Myself and other people were pretty freaked out about what happened there,” West said of the two fiery blasts.

The provincial working group was mandated to submit a report to both leaders by the end of December.

An Alberta government official did not respond to a question about the completion or release of the report, while an official in Clark’s office said the report is complete but that no date has been set for a public release.

Canadian National Rail (CN) declined comment.

The task force is led by Steve Carr, deputy minister of natural gas development in B.C. and Grant Sprague, deputy minister of energy in Alberta.

No one from either ministry could be reached for comment.