Pick your poison: pipeline or rail?

It seems inevitable that more and more petroleum products will find their way into railcar tankers

Editor, The Times:

While the majority of public and political attention in British Columbia is focused on the Northern Gateway project and Kinder Morgan’s twinning the Transmountain Pipeline, railcar shipments are increasing dramatically. In an effort to satisfy customer needs, oil producers and rail companies are turning their attention to rail shipment of products from our oil rich neighbour, Alberta. Much of it will head to southern U.S. refineries but some of it will surely find its way to U.S. west coast refineries. Enbridge`s Northern Gateway is years away, if ever. Kinder Morgan’s existing Transmountain Pipeline is at or near capacity. Transmountain Pipeline it is currently the most economical (and safest) way to move oil and gas products through Canada to the west coast of North America. With new Asian customers putting capacity demand on the pipeline, it seems inevitable that more and more of those products will find their way into railcar tankers. In 2009 Canadian Pacific moved 500 carloads, by 2014 Canadian Pacific expects to be moving 7,000 carloads, equivalent to 100,000 barrels per day. Canadian National is open for business also: www.cn.ca/en/shipping-north-america-crude-by-rail.htm

Railway companies historically have had poor safety records when it comes to keeping the wheels on track: www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/stats/rail/2010/ss10.pdf. Enbridge`s recent crisis management in the United States and its reaction and administration of those situations were deplorable. It will be very hard for Enbridge to convince the public that it is a reliable provider of pipeline service in B.C.

Public opinion says no to oil anywhere on the west coast of Canada. Reality – oil production in western Canada is going to proceed. We have invested billions of tax dollars on the infrastructure to accommodate carbon fuel technology. Most of those tax dollars were left in the Lower Mainland while the rest of the Province suffered the worst economic crisis in memory. Now, when economic opportunity might befall the Interior communities from the construction and maintenance of a pipeline, the majority of power from the Lower Mainland is in opposition. For irony, ask the people who have to put up with the stench of the Cache Creek landfill as the air cools in the evening along the valleys of the Thompson River between Cache Creek and Kamloops.

Oil is going to reach the west coast, be it by pipeline or railcar tanker. No entity wants an oil-related crisis, but acts of nature and human error are going to challenge every effort. It’s in everyone’s interest to find the balance that will allow society to move forward and protect our environment at the same time. It can be done. A per barrel levy charged to transporters of oil might be the most reasonable.

Precautionary measures, especially in critical areas, need to be installed, inspected and maintained to the highest standards. Critical response, support and administration could be funded by that levy.

Cost per barrel of oil for transmission through a pipeline is typically considered to around $5. Transport by railway tanker is considered to cost $10 – $12 per barrel. A portion of that difference applied to an oil transportation levy would seem to be a reasonable solution. Would we rather have 600,000 barrels transported in a pipe with the best technology available controlling the process, or 100,000 barrels on rolling stock clattering along the railways that follow every major river in the province? Pick your poison.

Bob MacCuish

Vavenby, B.C.