Bitumen pipeline already exists - rail
Transporting tar sands oil by rail to Prince Rupert’s deep-water port would be far less costly and much less environmentally disruptive than the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposed from Bruderheim, Alberta, across northern British Columbia to Kitimat.
Many of us railroaders in northern British Columbia can’t help but wonder why there should be a pipeline past our back door wilderness when at our front door there already is a first-class railway that can do the job with five times the capacity in less than half the time and less cost, and with more good-paying jobs - and it is under-used.” Prince Rupert has a super port which is one of the deepest water ports in the world served by the railway for high-volume loading of coal and grain onto ocean tankers. The super port has been there for more than 25 years. Yet Enbridge plans to build a new marine port in the sensitive Douglas Channel at Kitimat, which is 85 kilometres from open water.
CN Rail could move 2.6 million barrels from eastern Alberta to Prince Rupert daily with current infrastructure, while the proposed Enbridge pipeline could move only a half million barrels a day to port.
If the pipeline can carry only half a million barrels, you can see they would require more pipelines to increase capacity. Saskatchewan has also expressed a desire to transport some of their oil to the Western market by rail as well.
Alberta will soon be doubling oil production in less than 10 years, according to Alberta government and oil media forecasts. As volume increases, Enbridge would already have their foot in the door and would be looking for a second and third pipeline that would further disturb the virgin wilderness.
Rail would also be flexible in that they would be able to adjust the number of cars as demand increases or decreases.
The pipeline would cost around $5.5 billion to construct. By contrast, modifications and upgrades required for the rail transport of bitumen, or crude oil, to the port at Prince Rupert would cost only about $100 million, according to information in recent statements by Glen Perry, president of Altex Energy Ltd.
Would you rather spend $6 billion or close to zero?
Pipelines are less efficient in transporting crude oil than rail cars because they can only carry the actual petroleum to 70 per cent of their capacity. The remaining 30 per cent of the pipeline capacity is taken up by a diluent required for lubricating the oil to make it run under pressure.
When it reaches its destination at the coast, the diluent is separated and sent back in a parallel pipeline to eastern Alberta to re-enter the main pipeline again. So a pipeline can carry only a 70-per-cent load - almost doubling transportation costs- whereas rail cars don’t require the diluent and can carry a 100-per-cent load.”
CN Rail has upgraded the line between Jasper and Prince Rupert to a first-class rail standard. It has the latest technology available on railroads - that is, automatic signals and computerized systems for traffic control.
They have upgraded to the highest-standard rails, with sensors that can detect overheated wheels and bearings and send an alarm signal immediately to the computers in the dispatcher’s office.
Train derailments have occurred mainly on second-class branch lines that aren’t always kept up to the same standard as the main lines. The main lines from Jasper to Prince Rupert, and from Jasper to Vancouver, are of first-class status, capable of handling high-volume traffic with good management and maintenance.
When volume eventually reaches the single-rail maximum, it’s easy to add another track to make it a double track, without disturbing any virgin wilderness.
Most dispatchers, or rail traffic controllers, know that double tracks can handle three times the capacity of a single track because there are no opposing movements. Mountainous terrain poses far greater challenges for pipelines than the flat land or low rolling hills of the Prairies.
I have worked as dispatcher in both the Prairies and the mountains and am familiar with both. There’s absolutely no comparison in terrain. I remember my father’s, grandfather’s and neighbours’ farms with a pipeline through their land in Saskatchewan; and even there the occasional pipeline rupture occurred over the years, although they never seemed to make the news.
It was very simple to get immediate access and make repairs to minimize serious damage.
It’s almost impossible to expect the same access and repairs to pipelines in the rugged wilderness of BC.
People should be reminded that a pipeline burst near Chetwynd in the summer of 2000 that contaminated the source of that community’s water supply. Pipeline proponents talk about the jobs to be created. Employment-wise the railway would probably provide more jobs in northern British Columbia than the pipeline could.
“When Tumbler Ridge was developed in the 1980’s, we heard a lot of complaints about British Columbia residents not getting the jobs because contractors were brought in from Alberta with Alberta workers, at the expense of BC workers. This we would not want to see happen again. The race is on between Enbridge and CN Rail to transport crude oil 1,200 kilometres from Alberta to Prince Rupert or Kitimat.
Transport of the oil by rail makes far more economic and environmental sense than a pipeline over unusually rugged terrain and vulnerable wilderness, and it would also provide far more permanent employment and benefits to northern British Columbia as a whole.
Nunweiler was NDP MLA for Fort George from 1972-1975 and was BC Northern Affairs minister during that period. He is retired after 42 years with CN Rail.