Tank cars approved for use on North American railways have load limit of up to 92,700 kg. Between 80 and 90 cars per week carry Alberta crude across B.C. to Washington state. (Wikipedia)

Oil-by-rail traffic rises as B.C. battles over Trans Mountain pipeline

Trainloads increasing from Alberta to Washington refineries

While politicians bicker about the long-planned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, crude oil and diluted bitumen shipments by rail continue to increase in B.C.

B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong presented documents in the B.C. legislature Thursday, including a Washington state ecology department report showing steadily increased crude oil by rail since the state began accepting oil trains in 2012. And a similar increase is occurring in Canada.

“The National Energy Board says that whereas 7,000 barrels a day were transported in Canada in 2012, that is now up to over 15,000 barrels a day,” de Jong told the legislature. “The [International] Energy Agency in Paris predicts that by 2019, 600,000 barrels a day will be transported by rail in the absence of additional pipeline capacity.”

The 2017 Washington report states that crude by rail from Alberta enters the state at Bellingham. The route follows Interstate 5 and crosses or runs beside major waterways, including the Columbia River and Puget Sound. The report records between 80 to 90 rail cars per week carrying Alberta heavy crude from the Fort McMurray oil sands.

Washington receives volumes of Alberta heavy crude ranging from 60,000 to 123,000 barrels per week, plus larger amounts light crude from shale oil deposits in North Dakota, coming into refineries and shipping facilities in Washington by rail. North Dakota’s Bakken shale is the same source as the oil train that crashed and exploded in Lac Megantic, Que. in 2013, killing 47 people.

Premier John Horgan, who has fielded all pipeline-related questions this week on behalf of ministers of energy, environment and transportation, repeated his defence of the government’s plan to consult on new regulations and seek court judgments on B.C.’s role in a federally-approved project.

RELATED: Alberta moves to restrict petroleum to B.C.

“If the premier is answering all the questions, he can answer this one too,” de Jong said. “What steps is his government taking to protect the people in McBride, in Kamloops, in Cache Creek, in Lytton, in Hope, in Chilliwack, in Abbotsford and Langley from the kind of disaster we have seen happen in Canada before and that his government is making more likely to occur in British Columbia?”

Chilliwack MLA Laurie Throness described the situation in his community, including a train derailment in 1984.

“Twenty-eight trains, many of them carrying oil, barrel through our city every day and night at speeds of up to 80 km/h,” Throness said. “On the other hand, the Trans Mountain pipeline also goes through the community. It’s silent, it’s safe and there hasn’t been an incident in 60 years.”

Lumber, grain and other Western Canada commodities are reporting shipping backlogs this year due to a shortage of rail cars, partly due to the increase in oil traffic on railways.

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