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Oil-by-rail makes B.C. government 'nervous', Natural Gas Development minister says
The provincial governments of both British Columbia and Alberta agree that moving bitumen by rail to the west coast is a "viable alternative" to pipelines, but Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman said that is not an idea he supports.
Support for the oil-by-rail option can be found in the terms of reference of a Deputy Ministers working group aimed at opening new energy export opportunities, which simply states "if pipelines are not developed, rail will step into the void to deliver bitumen to the West Coast". But speaking to media from an energy conference in Daegu, South Korea, Coleman acknowledged oil-by-rail is not the preferred method of the provincial government.
"It makes us nervous and I think it makes our communities nervous, but you need to have a clear understanding if you're going to have the conversation, and that is what the intent is here ... we are not interested in seeing millions of barrels of oil moved by rail across British Columbia without being assured absolutely in the safety of the land base," he said, noting he has told the federal government the same.
"Rail didn't come up in our conversation, other than to say that I had the concern that rail would be the wrong solution to this ... obviously the optimal suggestion of moving oil by rail isn't there given the situation that happened in Quebec a few months ago, which was a terrible disaster for that community."
While noting no CN customers are asking CN to transport crude at the moment, CN's Mark Hallman said rail is a safe option should the need arise.
"Railways have a solid record in transporting hazardous material traffic. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), of which CN is a member, 99.997 per cent of hazardous materials carloads moved by railroads arrive at their destination without a release caused by an accident," he said.
"Railways complement the existing pipeline infrastructure and they are just as safe and as environmentally sustainable as pipelines in moving energy to market."
Coleman told reporters that the inclusion of rail in the terms of reference was in recognition of keeping all options on the table to get Alberta energy to Asian markets in light of the capacity of the line.
"The rail to Prince Rupert is at about 30 per cent capacity. We're told there is some work that had been done by some of the suppliers on that. In putting the terms off reference together, we said we better take a look at all of it," he said.
"That just basically flags the fact that we're going to take a look at all of these things, their environmental impact and the concerns of British Columbia, and Alberta quite frankly, as we come through this."