Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CN reminds the oil patch of a second option for oil transportation

"Our infrastructure is already there. We're not going to be the one to build tankage or vessel berths or anything like that in (Prince) Rupert. Certainly if there's a connection to be made between producers and if there are buyers in Asia that want to buy it, the rail network is there, we're ready to go now."-- James Cairns, a vice-president with the Canadian National Railway reminding oil sand executives of the CN Rail option for their transportation needs. 

The debate over shipments of oil from the Northern Alberta tar sands, currently focused on the Enbridge Gateway proposal may soon once again have another option to consider. Speaking at conference in Calgary to discuss the future of the Alberta oil sands, representatives of both Canadian railroads outlined their proposals to transport oil to coastal ports for shipment overseas.

CN's representative at the conference, James Cairns, explained to his audience that CN already has the infrastructure in place to transport the oil, all that is missing is a terminal with tanks for storage and berth for vessels to call at for shipment.

And while he advised that CN has no plans to build such facilities at either Prince Rupert or Kitimat, he stressed that should oil producers or shipping lines take that step, the railroad network is there an available immediately.

The proponents of the Northern Gateway proposal have been finding the going tough of late, as communities and First Nations councils express their concerns over the prospect of pipelines crossing through their territories.

Mr. Cairns outlined the advantages (in his corporation's view) of the rail prospects, that of a less risk of accidents based on the fact that rail spills are generally smaller than pipeline problems, and when incidents occur trains can be rerouted so deliveries can continue on.

He recounted for the conference how interest in the CN options increased in the wake of the Michigan and Illinois pipeline incidents of this past year. Providing CN with the opportunity to further develop their plans which we first heard of a last year when they outlined the scope of their "Pipeline by rail" project.

While the rail option may find a welcome audience in the Alberta oil patch, leaving behind the myriad of opposition groups for the cross country pipeline project, yet the future is still not assured as for the final destination.

While CN continues to provide the vision of oil transportation out of either the Port of Prince Rupert or Kitimat, the environmental movement and associated other groups in the Northwest will no doubt be turning its attention to the prospect of oil tankers entering the waters of the north coast either to Kitimat or Prince Rupert.

Those plans could very shift the debate from further inland to the coast, as both sides of the debate outline their positions and provide for the always controversial discussion over future economic development, weighed against environmental impact.

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