By Lael McKeown
Current statistics show that shipments of Canadian crude by rail have reached 175,000 barrels per day, compared to just under 24,000 barrels per day at the start of 2012.
That’s a large jump, with no public environmental review of its merits.
And it’s no wonder rail shipments have increased so sharply. Producers are understandably anxious to get their product to the Pacific tidewater and beyond to other markets, not just to the U.S. where prices are $50 million per day lower than in the rest of the world. Increased rail capacity can be accomplished very quickly.
So if Northern Gateway fails to move forward at the federal cabinet table later this year, Canadian oil will still be transported to the North Coast, and very probably by rail.
But a report from a Canadian think-tank late last year found transporting oil by pipeline is safe and environmentally friendly, and safer than transportation by road, rail, or barge, as measured by incidents, injuries, and fatalities.
Northern Gateway has said it will provide a pipeline delivery system that’s state of the art; and there’s no question the pipeline sector is highly regulated. Further, the company has pledged it will significantly raise the bar on project safety over and above industry standards.
For example, on marine safety, the plan calls for double-hulled tankers, two local pilots, enhanced navigational technology like land-based radar, and two separate tugs to accompany loaded tankers near shore.
On land, Northern Gateway has pledged 24/7 pipeline monitoring and remote pump stations staffed around the clock – a level of monitoring that is above and beyond industry practice today. Add to that thicker pipe and enhanced leak detection.
Beyond the superior engineering standards of the project, Northern Gateway’s social commitments will provide aboriginal communities a direct stake in the project’s success and more control of their economic well-being.
Aboriginal benefits packages will include a risk-free 10 per cent ownership offer, targeted investments to support aboriginal business people and skills training and job opportunities for aboriginal communities.
Important skills-training opportunities will be created for in-demand jobs — skills that will last young British Columbians a lifetime and help our province address skills shortages.
Economically, we’re talking about a $6.5 billion investment in our economy that will create 3,000 jobs during construction and 560 permanent British Columbia jobs.
Investment and new employment from the pipeline will generate $1.2 billion in revenue for B.C. over the next 30 years.
If we lose Northern Gateway, we will likely end up with a rail delivery system. While the proposed pipeline will be mostly buried, the rail line parallels the Skeena River for more than 200 kilometres and runs through a myriad of small towns across northern B.C.
Increased rail traffic brings no benefit to these communities, only risk and the logistical challenges of small towns trying to maintain a cohesive downtown core.
Losing Northern Gateway would mean we lose those economic benefits to First Nations, those construction jobs, those taxes for the government and that training of people of the northwest. None of those opportunities will come with a rail delivery system.
Make no mistake; oil will be transported from where it’s extracted to the coast, and on to Asia and other markets where it’s badly needed.
Don’t we want it to be transported by modern pipeline with the safest technology available? Don’t we want to maximize the opportunities that the pipeline brings?
Lael McKeown has been active in the Terrace community as a director of the Chamber of Commerce, Terrace Economic Development Authority, Kitimat-Terrace Industrial Development Society and the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society.