LETTER: Rail beats pipelines for safer transport of Alberta oil

Dear Editor:

Pipelines occasionally leak, while transport by rail has caused several terrible fires. There is a much safer way to export Alberta’s oil: transporting it as raw bitumen, called neatbit, by rail. Neatbit has the consistency of peanut butter. During derailment it won’t flow, or ignite. Altex Energy ships 20,000 barrels per day of neatbit from Saskatchewan to U.S. refineries. Several companies plan to ship it from Alberta to the U.S. The cost is still high. It requires special loading and unloading stations and insulated rail cars with heating coils to allow unloading.

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Since Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline is still iffy, we should look at the alternatives for export to Asia. The Alberta and federal governments are aware of the neatbit advantage and have seen fully estimated proposals based on designs from well-known engineering companies. They also have seen estimates of other options.

Green electric railways could remove their energy objections. There are two proposals to ship neatbit by rail to Kitimat. Another neatbit proposal is the Canadian G7G railway, which, with eight trains per day, can transport the combined volume of the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipelines via Alaska, thereby avoiding additional tanker traffic through B.C. waters.

There are three proposals to ship via the Arctic but the volumes are low. One is via the railway to Churchill another one is by railway to Hay River. There are two pipeline proposals. One is from Eagle Spirit, which will upgrade bitumen to unsinkable synthetic crude and pipe it to Prince Rupert. The other is a pipeline to Tuktoyaktuk.

Despite many efforts, there are no reliable instruments to detect pipeline leaks. Enbridge’s 2010 Kalamazoo River, Mich., spill lasted 17 hours. The Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled partly because undetected leaks could cause contamination of ground water. A rather new Nexen line leaked undetected for two weeks, in northern Alberta in the summer of 2015, spilling 60 per cent more than Kalamazoo. The Husky oil spill in July 2016 contaminated the North Saskatchewan river after the pipe leaked 14 hours.

Following the G7 and Paris agreements, most fossil fuel reserves will remain unused. Financial institutions warn about stranded assets. The G7G will survive. It provides access to huge ore deposits and will also be used for grain, potash forest products and general merchandise. Alaska, which spent $6 million on studies prior to G7G, looks forward to be connected to the South.

Neil Heesterman
North Vancouver

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