A joint task force announced by B.C. and Alberta premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford in July has handed in a report examining the feasibility of transporting oil by rail, according to the Canadian Press. The report is not yet available to the public.

The task force, whose mandate includes exploring the possibility of transporting crude oil from the oilsands via rail to the coast if proposed pipelines like Enbridge's Northern Gateway are denied, has been called "underhanded" by environmental group ForestEthics.

Ben West, campaign director for ForestEthics, said that the task force was 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."

West also raised concerns about the safety of moving oil by rail, an issue under close scrutiny after an oil tanker train derailed explosively in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July, killing 47 people and causing extensive damage. There have been several other incidents since Lac-Megantic, including train explosions in Alberta and North Dakota.

"Myself and other people were pretty freaked out about what happened there," West said of the recent explosions.

The joint task force was announced as a way for the two provinces to develop recommendations on opening up new export markets for oil, gas and other resources, including oilsands bitumen. Spills, fiscal and economic benefits and First Nations rights were also to be discussed.

The provincial working group was mandated to submit its report to premiers Clark and Redford by December.

"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."

Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline was recently approved by a federal panel, and Kinder Morgan officially submitted its application for the Trans Mountain Expansion project to the National Energy Board in December. Both projects will bring oil to the BC coast.

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

Neither ministry could be reached for comment. CN Rail declined to comment.

Image Credit: BC Gov Photos / Flickr

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