This article originally appeared on the Vancouver Observer.
Industry Minister James Moore who represents the Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam riding engaged in blatantly false fear mongering last week. He threatened a Lac Mégantic disaster if we don’t accept Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. In order to springboard from a disgusting reliance on a horrific tragedy to reach his ridiculous conclusion, he had to make stuff up.
These are desperate tactics from someone who as an elected Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown should know better. He said, “The people of Lac Mégantic wished they had pipelines instead of rail.” If Mr. Moore and his Tory government colleagues had done their job, Lac Mégantic would not have happened.
Instead of acting responsibly, Mr. Moore follows up his toxic logic with a distasteful chaser. “It’s very dangerous for the Lower Mainland … to have the massive spike in rail transfer of dangerous goods,” he said. Moore is reported to have pointed to the huge rail yard in the heart of Port Coquitlam claiming an increasing number of trains are arriving there carrying diluted bitumen crude that has no other way to get to foreign markets.
That’s just not true. There are no facilities on the west coast to transfer crude oil from tank cars to marine shipping vessels. CP spokesperson Jeremy Berry confirmed, “CP does not ship oil along its line to Vancouver for export.”
Mark Hallman, CN’s director of communications and public affairs explained by email that, “CN has never transported crude oil or diluted bitumen to any British Columbia port or terminal for export via ocean-going vessel, and has no plans to do so.”
As for the so-called “massive spike in rail transfer of dangerous goods” there is neither a massive transfer nor a spike. Transport Canada figures of about 5,000 barrels a day relied on by Mr. Moore date back to 2013. CP confirms that, “2014 numbers are lower than 2013.” It is interesting that Mr. Moore would not use recent figures—maybe because they don’t support his false narrative.
Mr. Moore is quoted as following up his falsehood about a massive spike in rail transfer with “The people of Port Coquitlam and Burnaby and New Westminster, with dangerous goods going on those rail lines, should be concerned about that.”
If Mr. Moore is concerned about rail transport, he should do everything he can to stop crude transport until its safe, not blackmail Canadians with incineration if we don’t accept pipeline projects.
The truth is it is the Harper government’s unrelenting willingness to cheerlead on behalf of Alberta’s tar sands that is putting us at risk and failing the Canadian economy—including the economic health of our fossil fuel industry.
The Chevron refinery in Burnaby imports a small amount of crude by rail. Chevron began rail-to-truck-to-refinery deliveries in May 2012 and rail-to-refinery deliveries in April 2013 because Chevron couldn’t get enough space on the existing Trans Mountain pipeline—exports took priority over domestic needs.
Crowding out domestic demand is why the relatively small volumes of crude by rail to B.C. have increased since 2011, not because diluted bitumen is seeking foreign markets. But even if Chevron could export all the crude oil it can now receive by rail, it would take more than two months for them to fill an oil tanker. Mr. Moore’s “heavy oil exports to foreign markets” spin doesn’t even make business sense.
Our safety is not threatened by rail transport of heavy oil. Our safety is threatened by the Federal Government’s de-regulation of transport safety. Since 2010 marine safety budgets have been slashed 28 per cent and rail and aviation by more than 20 per cent. Had Transport Canada done its job regulating the rail industry Lac Mégantic would not have happened.
Our safety is also threatened by the Harper government’s unwillingness to ensure Canadian energy self sufficiency. The oil transported to Lac Mégantic on that fateful night in July 2013 was Bakken crude—a highly flammable light oil imported from New Town, North Dakota destined for the Irving refinery in New Brunswick. More than 40 per cent of the crude oil used in eastern Canada is imported. The public policy answer is to ensure more bitumen is upgraded in Alberta—what Harper promised would happen in 2008 before foreign multinational interests made him change his mind—not build more pipelines.
Oil sands bitumen is dense like tar or wet cement. It requires imported condensate as diluent to move it through a pipeline. If more bitumen were upgraded in Alberta instead of transported as diluted bitumen for upgrading in other countries we would have plenty of pipeline space.
Barrel for barrel, diluted bitumen requires twice as much pipeline capacity as upgraded bitumen. You need dedicated condensate import pipelines, like Enbridge’s Southern Lights and Kinder Morgan’s Cochin, to bring condensate in, and then you need 30 per cent of the heavy oil pipeline export capacity to re-export condensate as diluent in bitumen. What’s more, diluted bitumen moves 20 per cent slower than light or synthetic crude oil.
Transporting diluted bitumen, even by pipeline, unnecessarily exposes Canadians to a condensate spill. Condensate becomes airborne when released. It’s highly toxic and causes severe respiratory damage. Rail transport of heavy oil requires little or no condensate because oil in rail cars is stationary—the cars move, not the heavy oil.
Mr. Moore was elected to protect his constituent’s interests, not mislead them with erroneous statements and distastefully false arguments. Instead of busying himself inventing boogie men as a front for big oil he should protect the safety and business interests of Canadians—while he still has time.
Robyn Allan is an economist, former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and qualified expert intervenor in the NEB Trans Mountain Expansion Project Hearings.