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Barlow says Energy East pipeline not safer than oil by rail

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow disagrees with the editorial board of the Regina Leader-Post in their assertion that the Energy East pipeline would be safer than crude oil shipments by rail. She rejects the “either or” argument and instead points to the imperative of a sustainable energy future and climate justice.

In their editorial, the board commented, “The fiery derailment of two trains carrying crude oil [in West Virginia and northern Ontario] in the space of three days underscores the worrisome impact of such incidents.” They also note earlier instances of 15 crude oil tankers derailing in Virginia, an oil train exploding in North Dakota, and a tanker car exploding in Alberta. They rightly express concern that, “A report to the City of Regina’s emergency measures committee Tuesday noted that more than 18,250 tanker cars carrying crude oil passed through our city in 2013.”

But they then argue, “It’s noteworthy that these incidents are happening at a time when some activists are trying to stop the Keystone XL, Energy East and Northern Gateway pipelines, saying they’re a threat to the environment. A bigger threat than exploding oil trains? We suggest not. …In the energy utopia envisaged by opponents of all things oil, this crude fossil fuel wouldn’t be needed. The reality is that oil – and its fossil siblings natural gas and coal – will continue to fuel human activity far into the future.”

And they conclude, “It’s prudent and far safer to send oil by pipeline than load it onto trains that are coming off the rails far too often for comfort.”

In a letter to the editor, Barlow responds, “Your Feb. 18 editorial rightly highlights the danger of transporting oil by rail. But the Energy East pipeline – which would transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day past the growing Harbour Landing subdivision – is not safer.”

She highlights, “According to U.S. data, rail incidents happened twice as often as pipeline spills from 2004 to 2012. But pipelines spilled three times as much crude oil as trains over that period. And the American Association of Railroads says rail transport spills 0.38 gallons of oil per million barrels moved, compared to 0.88 gallons for pipelines. Rail versus pipeline is a choice between more frequent versus larger oil spills.”

Barlow says that pipelines would not mean less oil by rail. “The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wants to see tar sands production expand to 6.44 million barrels per day by 2030. Given this, it’s likely that they will use both rail and pipeline to meet their targets. And curbing tar sands expansion, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, is necessary. Researchers from University College London recently concluded that if the world is to limit climate change to two degrees Celsius, 85 per cent of the tar sands cannot be burned. Energy East alone could spur close to a 40-per-cent increase in tar sands production.”

She then concludes, “Governments must commit to transition away from fossil fuels. Investing in public transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy generates more jobs than pipeline and fossil-fuel development. This is the future we must seek, not one in which we must pick our poison.”

Barlow will be speaking against the Energy East pipeline in Saskatchewan and Manitoba this spring, including at a public forum in Regina this April. More details on that soon.

For more about our campaign against Energy East, please click here.