Are crude-by-rail’s days numbered?

Why Ottawa’s plans to tighten rules can’t come soon enough


Ottawa’s plan to tighten the rules for railroads shipping oil can’t come soon enough, it seems. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in mid-December that Transport Canada bureaucrats are drafting a new regime, to be submitted by the end of January, that would treat crude oil as a highly dangerous cargo, as opposed to merely flammable. Since she made the announcement there have been two more accidents that have resulted fireballs and flames.

The latest incident is still unfolding in Plaster Rock, N.B., where a train operated by Canadian National Railway derailed and burst into flames Tuesday evening. CN has said 16 cars came off the tracks, including four carrying propane and four carrying crude oil.  The inferno forced the evacuation of 150 people. In late December, another crude-fueled explosion shook North Dakota after a train hauling soybeans went off the tracks, putting it in the path of another train carrying oil from the Bakken region. Hundreds were evacuated.

Among the issues Transport Canada is looking at is whether railroads have sufficient disaster-response capabilities, and whether crude oil from the Bakken region, which tends to be lighter and more volatile, is being properly tested and labelled by shippers. However, it’s unclear whether the new rules would have prevented the spate of recent incidents.

The industry found itself under increased scrutiny last summer after a crude-laden train slipped down a hillside and exploded in the centre of Lac-Megantic, Que., killing 47.

Call for new rules are also mounting south of the border, with former North Dakota governor George Sinner recently calling the growing number of exploding railcars a “ridiculous threat” to communities across the country. In November, yet another train hauling Bakken oil derailed and exploded in Alabama.

The railroad industry says it’s safety record is already impressive, with 99.9 per cent of dangerous goods shipments arriving at their destinations safely. But critics say the sheer volume of oil now being transported by rail—in the U.S. railroads carried 234,000 car loads of crude in 2012, compared to 5,912 five years earlier, according to the Wall Street Journal—means the absolute number of accidents is bound to increase, and that it’s only a matter of time before another Lac-Megantic-like tragedy occurs. Author and former CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin recently told Maclean’s that “one of these days an explosion is going to happen in Chicago or Toronto” and that it will “change the whole nature of the equation.”




Are crude-by-rail’s days numbered?

  1. Does anybody know how it is that Burkhardt isn’t in jail right now?

    • Because it hasn’t been proven whether it was the fault of the operator or if there was tampering (sabotage).

  2. The only thing that will stop crude being shipped by rail is if some of the pipelines in the works start being approved and expedited. Otherwise, just expect even more of this.

    • The connection is idiotic. If it cannot be shipped by rail safely then it should be stopped. Frankly, that is the government’s job.

      On an equally ridiculous front, 99.9% of GTA citizens reaching their transport destinations safely on a daily basis is consistent with just slightly less than 1 million traffic casualties per annum.

      • Connecting oil transport by rail or pipeline is idiotic? One is an obvious alternate for the other. The alternative is safer and cheaper. Connecting the two seems to be pretty bloody logical, not idiotic. But you Liberals often fail to see the difference between the two.

        • You see that wall over there Rick?

          See the writing on it?

          • Yes, it says “pipelines”.

          • And right after that there are the letters RIP.

          • RIP? Only in the fevered imagination of a progressive zealot.

            Opposition to pipelines like Keystone is simply a fundraising stunt by eco-agitators.

            Oil is a legal product and as such, can not be prevented from being shipped. Rail or pipeline, take your choice.

          • LOL well you can call it anything you like, but the public mood is turning away from pipelines….not to mention oil….so transporting it won’t be anywhere near the slam dunk you envision.

            But by all means sound dictatorial about it…..that will help I’m sure.

          • Typical progressive fantasy thinking with your massive disconnect from reality. Just like peak oil, the lefts belief in the end of oil is pure fiction too.

          • Well I’m all for progress….most people are….but I’m not ‘left’.

            We have lots of oil. We just no longer have cheap oil.

          • Progressives mask their desire for bigger more intrusive government by using the word disingenuously.

            Being a “progressive” is a negative . . . just like being a socialist or a liberal is a negative.

            But back to pipelines, the public mood supports Keystone. You know that EmilyOne.

          • Being progressive means being in favour of progress…..I’m afraid you can’t make up your own definitions.

            So no, it’s not a negative….anymore than being a liberal. I’m not a socialist.

            And no the public mood does not support Keystone….you live in a fantasy world ya know?

          • And where will the oil come from that is used to make the plastic your computer is made of? Have you been in a car or bus lately? Where will that oil come from? Green technologies are nice but they’re not here. Pipelines are needed otherwise people will die.

          • We have been able to make plastics out of other materials for years. We also have alternative fuels.

            This is how capitalism works…..when one product becomes too expensive or too dangerous….people find a substitute.

          • Just because something’s possible doesn’t mean it’s scalable. We can make bioplastics but that requires a great deal of farmland (something the world only has a limited supply of). Widespread conversion to bioplastics would drive up world food prices (remember the global food crisis that was triggered by the use of corn for biofuels? More people died from that than have from oil-train derailments). It would also require us to accelerate deforestation (won’t that speed up climate change? Yup.)

            Bioplastics also require a higher level of energy input during the conversion process than oil-based plastics.

            Name one alternative fuel that is scalable to the levels of oil and wouldn’t require the replacement of almost every vehicle in the world – something that would come with a huge economic and environmental cost.

            The simple fact is that, while at some point in the future we will have to find a replacement for oil, right now all the other options either have a higher environmental, human or economic cost.

          • Well now that you’ve quit before we’ve started, you can return to the back of the cave.

            ‘Some point in the future’…..is now.

          • Plastic substitutes and alt fuels are ferociously expensive. Wealthy progressives can afford them but not many others.

            Oil, nuclear, hydro and coal are still the most affordable fuels for the masses.

          • Everything we do is expensive at first, until economy of scale kicks in. That’s how capitalism works.

            You’ll just have to get over it.

        • You didn’t want me to piss in your soup so I pissed in your salad. One is an obvious alternate for the other.

          • Hey dumb-dumb, why don’t you go throw a brick through a window at Suncor or something really productive like that.

        • Your point of view might have made sense if train derailments were leading to oil spills requiring some cranes and clean-up. Then the Conservatives would have adopted a user-pay approach, add some tweaks to regulations and be done with it.

          Instead the derailments are leading to explosions & fireballs, it is a question of public safety not economics.

          • It is a matter of public safety, which is exactly why we should be shipping more crude by pipeline. Because it’s safer. It has the added benefit of being more economical. How do you not understand that? What solution would you suggest?

          • Not shipping crude by rail doesn’t mean more pipelines, anymore than not pissing in your soup means pissing in your salad.

          • Try taking a swim in Lac Megantic you simpleton! All the oil doesn’t just vaporize when burnt. They are still cleaning it up and I believe you would require a crane or two to remove all the burnt out tankers, unless of course they just magically righted themselves onto the tracks and were hauled away. lenny’s word stupie really applies to you!

          • Try reading Stewart’s comment again – slowly this time.

  3. Jeff Rubin is right, only when a disaster happens in a major city will anything change…the Conservatives ushered in quiet new rules Dec.31 written by the RR for the RR. they didn’t even call a press conference and have Raitt boast about how the tough on crime Torys would be for corporations who vaporize citizens.

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