The next front in Canada’s fight over oil exports

OmniTRAX hopes to send oil to the world’s polar bear capital in Churchill, Man.


A woman walks past Greenpeace environmental activists dressed up as a polar bear in Prague April 29, 2013. The event is part of a campaign to raise awareness about the threats to the Arctic and to advocate a ban on drilling for oil. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

Prepare yourselves, Canada, for a new front in your country’s pursuit of global oil domination.

You already know about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the southern United States. You already know about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would send oil and gas to the choppy waters of B.C.’s Pacific coast. Neither project is certain to be approved, but both represent symbols of an appetite to export. Throw in a proposal to expand Kinder Morgan’s pipeline to B.C.’s Lower Mainland, and TransCanada’s Energy East proposal to ship Alberta crude to New Brunswick, and you have a serious desire to sell oil wherever there’s a buyer.

Set aside pipelines, for a second. Did you know that, by the end of the year, Canadian railways are expected to ship 200,000 barrels of crude oil south of the border every day? Those kinds of estimates largely emerged into the public conversation when a train carrying crude from North Dakota slammed into Lac-Mégantic, Que., destroying much of the town core. In the absence of all those proposed pipelines, rail is picking up the slack.

Yesterday, Conservative MP Merv Tweed announced his resignation from the House of Commons. Tweed departs public life for a new career as the president of OmniTRAX, a northern rail company that has its eyes set squarely on Hudson Bay. The company wants to ship crude to Churchill, Man., which just so happens to host the country’s only Arctic deepwater seaport. From there, presumably, the oil would make its way by ship to thirsty customers nowhere near the Canadian Arctic.

No crude export goes unchallenged, these days, however. OmniTRAX, if its proposals come to life, will be no exception. The company wants to send oil to a port that’s known as the world’s polar bear capital. Taking on the home turf of the Arctic environmentalist’s best friend? Good luck with that.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with BlackBerry’s potential sale to investment firm Fairfax Holdings. The National Post fronts the prospect of the Hyperloop mass transportation system, which would see users carried through tubes in capsules. The Toronto Star goes above the fold a damaging audit of Senator Pamela Wallin’s claimed expenses, which she claimed was the product of a “fundamentally flawed and unfair process.” The Ottawa Citizen leads with Wallin’s claims that she changed her Senate calendar on the advice of another senator. iPolitics fronts questions about Wallin’s various travel claims. CBC.ca leads with the looming public release of the Wallin audit. CTV News leads with a planned rally in Toronto that protests fatal shootings at the hands of police officers. National Newswatch showcases the CBC‘s look at the release of Wallin’s audit.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Arctic oil. Merv Tweed, a Manitoba MP, is resigning to head up a northern railway firm, OmniTRAX, that hopes to ship crude oil out of a Hudson Bay deepwater seaport in Churchill, Man. 2. Aeroplan. TD has won a 10-year contract with Aimia’s Aeroplan loyalty program, wrenching it from CIBC—which still hopes to hang on to a large chunk of existing Aeroplan clients.
3. Asylum. New rules for asylum claimants has prompted a swift drop in such requests: claims during the first half of 2013 amounted to half the number from the same time last year. 4. Healthcare. Researchers at Western University have devised a method of communicating with unresponsive patients who were previously thought to be unable to answer doctors’ questions.
5. Gibraltar. Spain and the U.K. continue to fight over who should control the Rock of Gibraltar, which the Brits have held for 300 years. Both are threatening to escalate ongoing complaints. 6. Nigeria. Forty-four worshippers at a mosque near Maiduguri were shot and killed by suspected militants from the radical Islamic Boko Haram group that sometimes targets moderate Muslims.

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The next front in Canada’s fight over oil exports

  1. ‘OmniTRAX Canada, Inc. bought the track
    from CN in 1997 for $11 million. It took over the related Port of
    Churchill, which opened in 1929, when it acquired it from Canada Ports
    Corporation, for a token $10 soon after buying the rail line. The
    deep-water port is looking to diversify its customer base following last
    year’s dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, its preeminent customer
    for many years.’


    Long term plans becoming visible. OmniTRAX is American

  2. I’m pretty sure this article is factually incorrect. Northern gateway is planned as a diluted bitumen pipeline, not ‘oil and gas’. Diluted bitumen is far more dangerous for spills than normal crude oil. Given that you mis-identified the product for gateway, maybe you should check the facts on Kinder Morgan and Energy East to verify if they’re supposed to ship crude or bitumen. And again, is Omnitrax planning to ship crude, or bitumen? They are two different products with different risks involved.

    • Why are there so many spills from oil pipelines? Is the conduit being used just not up to the task of having millions of barrels of oil/diluted bitumen pumped through it at various pressures? Does it deteriorate due to over use? Why bury the pipelines? Are there areas where above ground lines are the only alternative? How many miles of oil pipelines do we have in Canada? Just wondering if you have any answers to these questions.

      • That I don’t know. I am aware that one huge issue for gateway is that apparently bitumen is heavier than water, so a spill in/into a waterway becomes massively more difficult to clean up than oil, which floats on top. This problem will exist for any proposal that involves bitumen travelling, rather than being refined on-site prior to transport.

        • Almost all crude oils have heavier components that sink even in salt water as the more volatile and lighter components evaporate.

      • Given the tens of thousands of kilometres of pipelines, there’s actually very few spills.

        Pipelines are buried to keep people from driving into them as well as to keep them from freezing.

        Some places the pipelines are necessarily aboveground.

    • Despite all the hype, bitumen is not that much different from any other crude.

  3. Yeah, but there isn’t any activists up in Churchill.

    • Do they tend to get eaten by the bears?

    • 813 of them now no doubt.

  4. At the town hall meeting in Churchill Manitoba Tuesday night to hear a presentation regarding the proposal to ship bitumen by rail to the port of Churchill and then by tanker out through Hudson Bay, the Denver-based OmniTRAX spokesman said the permits are in place, they are going ahead with the plan, with or without Churchill’s approval.

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