Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Legislation

Oil by rail: Have the lessons of Lac-Mégantic been learned? No

By Bruce Campbell      

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that oil transportation by rail will grow from 200,000 barrels per day in 201?5 to between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels per day by 2018—potentially a three-fold increase. This means ever more oil trains rumbling through populated communities east and west across Canada, and south to the U.S.

Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

With pipeline approvals stalled—Keystone XL denied, Northern Gateway dead, Energy East and Kinder Morgan in deep trouble—the oil industry is running out of room. Despite the collapse in oil prices, production is still expected to grow as existing investments come on stream. Especially in the short-term, it is looking to find alternate ways to move crude oil from Western Canada to market.

Enter oil-by-rail. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that oil transportation by rail will grow from 200,000 barrels per day in 201?5 to between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels per day by 2018—potentially a three-fold increase. This means ever more oil trains rumbling through populated communities east and west across Canada, and south to the U.S.

It has been less than three years since the tragic Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster. Is transportation of oil by rail safe enough now to prevent another Lac-Mégantic? Are the measures taken to improve the rail safety system and restore public confidence, adequate? Can the current rail infrastructure safely handle the current volume of dangerous goods traffic let alone its expected growth.

The answer to these questions is, in my view, no! Here are some of the reasons why:

First, following the accident, the government quickly removed the most unsafe tank cars, with the rest of the so-called legacy cars scheduled for removal by May 1, 2017. However, two separate CN derailments last winter near Gogama, Ont., involved recently upgraded tank cars, which also punctured, spilled their contents and exploded—this time carrying Alberta diluted bitumen. One of these occurred dangerously close to the town. A new super-reinforced design has been approved for North America, but will not be fully in place until 2025. Until then, volatile oil will continue to be transported in unsafe tank cars.

Second, prior to Lac-Mégantic, Transport Canada failed to inspect and verify the volatility of Bakken oil despite evidence it was routinely misclassified as lower volatility. Notwithstanding the misclassification issue, there are still no regulations in place either in Canada or the U.S. that require the removal of the volatile components of Bakken oil or bitumen prior to being loaded onto trains.

The Transport Safety Board’s 2014 Watchlist identified the transport of flammable liquids as a major risk to rail safety: “The current railway operating practices, com­bined with the vulnerability of the tank cars used to transport such prod­ucts, are not adequate to effectively mitigate the risk posed by the transpor­tation of large quantities of flammable liquids by rail.”

Third, Transport Canada moved immediately after the accident to reverse its earlier decision to allow all railways that wanted to run their freight trains with a single operator (including one with an appalling safety record), could do so without meeting an exhaustive set of conditions prior to being granted an exemption.

This incredibly irresponsible decision suggests regulatory capture by regulation-averse industry lobbyists and some compliant senior bureaucrats doing the bidding of their political masters bent on dismantling “silent job killing” regulations. This seemingly compromised system needs to be redeemed, and the independence of the regulator assured.

Fourth, Transport Canada has failed to address major problems—identified repeatedly by the auditor general—in its safety management system (SMS) regulatory regime. SMS was supposed to supplement traditional regulatory oversight, but without adequate resources companies were effectively regulating themselves, making their own judgments regarding risk versus profits. The SMS system was identified in Transportation Safety Board’s 2014 Watchlist as among “those issues posing the greatest risk to Canada’s transportation system.”

Finally, resources available to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) and Rail Safety divisions of Transport Canada remain woefully inadequate to cope with crude oil traffic. Transport Canada’s rail safety and TDG budgets have been frozen or cut over the last five years. According to the most recent planning and priorities documents, rail safety oversight spending is expected to decline 20 per cent by 2017–18.

During the election the Liberals pledged to the citizens group, Safe Rail Communities, and others that it would: “increase government regulation and enforcement for the transportation of dangerous substances over rail, and provide Transport Canada with the necessary funding and resources to hire and train an adequate number of dangerous goods and rail safety inspectors to ensure proper oversight of the rail industry.” The upcoming federal budget should reveal more about the government plans to fulfill this commitment.

It has also pledged a major infrastructure investment initiative. Mayors have called for the construction of new dedicated rail routes to circumvent heavily populated areas. This should be a priority—starting with Lac-Mégantic whose citizens are demanding it.

The new government, with the best of intentions, should not be deluded into thinking that piecemeal regulatory improvements are sufficient. Systemic reform is needed to secure the social licence that the Prime Minister promises: to convince a skeptical public that the lessons of Lac-Mégantic have been learned, that the transportation of oil by rail through populated centres is safe.

Bruce Campbell is on leave as executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Awarded a Law Foundation of Ontario social justice fellowship, he is currently a visiting fellow at the University of Ottawa law faculty.

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

 

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.