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It’s wrong to use Lac-Mégantic to argue for pipelines

Our attention now needs to be on the residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec who are suffering from the explosion of the oil-carrying railway cars that devastated their community and took at least thirteen lives, a death toll that is sadly expected to increase in the coming days.

But the Globe and Mail editorial board chose to make the comment today that, “The probability of accidents involving trains carrying crude oil has been greatly increased by the shortage of pipeline capacity in North America. …Pipelines are clearly safer. It is greatly to be hoped that the government of the United States will soon approve the building of the Keystone XL pipeline…” They even add, “The proposals to enable an existing TransCanada Corp. natural-gas pipeline route to also move oil from the West to Central and Eastern Canada should be considered all the more seriously.”

This past Sunday, the newspaper even published a commentary piece by Diana Furchtgott-Roth who wrote, “After Saturday’s tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it is time to speed up the approval of new pipeline construction in North America. Pipelines are the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas, and we need more of them, without delay.” But should we be accepting uncritically the word of a senior fellow at the Exxon and Koch-funded Manhattan Institute who has also worked for the American Petroleum Institute and the oil industry-backed American Enterprise Institute?

Indeed, the facts don’t even support the assertions being made by the Globe and Mail editorial board and Ms. Furchtgott-Roth. As Daniel Tencer writes in the Huffington Post, “Pipelines spill three times as much oil over comparative distances as rail, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. …The IEA found the risk of a rail spill is six times as high as the risk of a pipeline spill, but pipelines simply spill more when they rupture. …The study backs up research from the American Association of Railroads, released last month, which found that rail transport spills 0.38 gallons of oil per million barrels moved, compared to 0.88 gallons for pipelines.”

But this is not an either or situation. The transport of crude by both railway and pipeline is a dangerous business to the communities and waterways where it is extracted, the routes upon which it is transported, and at the end-point where it is consumed.

Now is not the time for business as usual, and it’s certainly not the time to make the case for the building of the Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines.

Instead, it is our common responsibility to work to understand the cause of the devastation in Lac-Mégantic and ensure that it could never happen there again or anywhere else. It’s time to make sure that the 100,000 litres of oil that spilled into the Chaudière River does not deny the right to water in the downstream community of Saint-Georges and other communities. We should also deeply mourn the loss of 300,000 people every year who die from climate-change related disasters in the Global South. We need to find it in our hearts to hear the call from front-line, directly-impacted First Nations at this past weekend’s Tar Sands Healing Walk near Fort McMurray, Alberta who said, ‘stop the destruction, start the healing’.

This is what must form the foundation of any discussions related to energy needs here and around the world.