After deadly Quebec explosion, questions about the viability of oil transport by rail get louder

After a catastrophic oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Que. where 13 are confirmed dead and 50 missing, a critical question has emerged.

Isn’t it safer to transport oil by pipelines?

The question is of particular importance to people in British Columbia, where two major proposed oil pipelines have met stiff resistance from environmentalists, First Nations and some communities.

Both pipelines — the $6.5-billion Enbridge line through northern B.C. and Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion twinning project to the Lower Mainland — are meant to deliver crude from the Alberta oilsands to new markets in Asia.

If the pipelines are not approved, there is little doubt oil shipments by rail to B.C.’s ports will increase. Alberta oil producers are intent on diversifying from their dependence on the U.S. market. Alberta oilsands producer Nexen has already investigated that possibility using CN through the Port of Prince Rupert in northern B.C.

And companies are already bidding on the right to transport their oil on Kinder Morgan’s existing Trans Mountain line because Alberta producers are now shipping oil via the Burnaby terminal to Asian markets.

The combined capacity of the two proposed oil pipelines of more than 1.1 million barrels a day would take more than 1,500 rail cars a day to transport.

No longer able to get all the conventional oil it needs for its small refinery in Burnaby, Chevron began transporting small amounts of oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan by CN rail to Langley, then trucking it to the refinery. In May, Chevron increased the amount of oil brought in by rail, and the 7,500 barrels of oil now brought in by train and truck account for about 14 per cent of the refinery’s maximum operating capacity.

“Our position is that pipelines represent, we think, the safest most efficient method (of transportation). However, in response to business needs, we’ve had to introduce these others,” Chevron Burnaby refinery spokesman Ray Lord said Monday.

But Lord also said rail is safe and that there have been no incidents since they started using trains more than a year ago.

Historically, it doesn’t appear using rail to transport oil to the former Ioca refinery in Port Moody was a safety issue either.

Rail was used to transport oil to the refinery for decades until the Trans Mountain pipeline was built in the 1950s without any derailments or spills, said Al Sholund, a Port Moody historian and former employee at the Ioca refinery.

There have been major derailments in Western Canada, including on Aug. 3, 2005 when 800,000 litres of bunker oil and wood preservative spilled into Wabamun Lake west of Edmonton. Just days later, a derailment near Squamish spilled 40,000 litres of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River.

There were 49 fatalities from railway incidents in 2012 in Canada, five in B.C., according to the Transportation Safety Board.

However, all but a handful were from crossing or trespassing incidents.

University of B.C. professor David Farrell said there is no question that statistically, it’s safer to transport oil by pipeline than it is by rail.

He said a U.S. study of incidents between 2005-2009 shows road transportation had the highest accident rate, followed by rail and pipelines. Citing the study by the think-tank Manhattan Institute, which supports building pipelines, Farrell noted that the number of incidents on rail were four times as great as on pipelines.

The study found road had 19.95 incidents per billion ton-miles, followed by rail with 2.08 per billion ton-miles, natural gas transmission at 0.89 and oil pipelines at 0.58.

“There is nothing that really moves on (pipelines) other than the stuff in the pipeline. In the case of rail, you have steel wheels, and steel rails, and these are moving, so when you get an incident there’s going to be more damage and the risk of ignition by sparks,” said Farrell, a transportation and logistics expert in UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

However, a Burnaby citizen’s group opposed to Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline says it makes little difference whether its pipelines or trains transporting oil.

“It’s like choosing between different poisons,” said Alan Dutton, a member of the Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion.

CP Railway declined to comment after the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

In an email, CN spokesman Mark Hallman said Tuesday the tragic Quebec accident is a sober reminder of the vital importance of rail safety.

“However, this tragedy notwithstanding, movement of hazardous material by rail not only can be, but is being handled safely in the vast majority of instances,” said Hallman.

According to the Association of American Railroads, of which CN is a member, 99.9977 per cent of hazardous material carloads moved by railroad are accident free.

Pipelines in British Columbia have also had spill incidents, including two recent small spills on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

Major past incidents include a 2007 rupture that leaked 1,400 barrels of oil in Burnaby after an excavator punctured the Trans Mountain line.

Both Kinder Morgan and Enbridge also declined an interview on Tuesday, saying their companies’ thoughts were with the community of Lac-Mégantic and those grieving loved ones.

Kinder Morgan noted its safety record of oil spills is well below the industry average.

Enbridge has also touted the industry’s safety record, noting on its Northern Gateway website that pipelines “are the safest, most economical, and most environmentally sensitive method of transporting petroleum on the planet.”

The Canadian Petroleum Association has noted that from 2002 and 2009, the average annual volume released from pipelines was just two litres for every million litres transported. That works out to 99.9998 per cent of the product transported safely.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Train tragedy: Could it happen here in B.C.?

VANCOUVER — B.C. can expect more oil to be transported by rail, as production outpaces pipeline capacity, even if the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline propsals are built.

That could leave communities in B.C. vulnerable to the kind of train wreck that left the town of Lac-Megantic, Que. in ruins Saturday, killing five people and leaving 40 missing.

The disaster raises serious questions about safety risks posed by rail transport and the adequacy of Canada’s regulatory framework, according to environmental and transportation experts.

“This is a huge risk to our communities, rail lines go through the heart of communities right across this country as well as along our major waterways,” said Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.

Stewart said B.C. and other provinces can expect to see an increase in oil shipment by rail, a practice that has increased dramatically in the past two years.

According to Stewart, moving oil by rail was virtually unheard of just five years ago. But as Alberta’s oil production combined with shale oil production in North Dakota overtook capacity on pipelines, rail companies saw an opportunity to fill the void.

In 2012, two per cent of Canada’s oil was shipped by rail, Stewart said, citing National Energy Board figures. That amount is triple what was shipped by rail in 2011.

“It’s expected to double or triple again this year,” he said. “So the amount (of oil) being moved is increasing very very rapidly and the rail companies are moving into this as a new profit centre,” he said.

As many as 140,000 carloads of crude oil are expected to rattle over Canada’s tracks this year, up from only 500 carloads in 2009, ccording to the Railway Association of Canada.

Thousands of new tanker cars have been ordered by North American railways.

Compounding the risk, Stewart added, is the fact that many rail companies move oil in cars known as “DOT-111” tankers.

These cars, most commonly used to transport crude oil in Canada, have a history of puncturing during accidents. The federal Transportation Safety Board has said repeatedly that they are prone to spill their contents during derailments and other impacts, and a U.S. Transportation and Safety Board investigation into a 2009 CN derailment and fire concluded that the tankers should be fitted with head shields, tank jackets and other safety measures to mitigate against disaster. It’s unclear if any of those recommendations were implemented.

Right now, only a small amount of oil is moved through B.C. by rail, said Stewart, mostly through the Interior and down to California. He said correspondence between environmental groups and several rail companies has revealed many are considering taking oil to the B.C. coast.

A spokesman from Canadian National Railway said Sunday the company does not transport oil in B.C.

Canadian Pacific Railway spokesman Ed Greenberg said in an email Sunday he did not have specific details on whether CP transports crude oil through B.C. He added: “We are not making any formal comment today in light of the tragic incident in Quebec.”

Approximately 230,000 barrels (more than 20 million litres) of oil are moved by rail in North America every day, according to the railway association. The association estimates that 99.99 per cent all “dangerous goods” rail shipments reach their destination without any spills caused by accidents or derailments.

Meanwhile, a new rail company has its sights firmly set on B.C. for oil transport. A group of Canadian businessmen calling itself Generating for Seven Generations (G7G) has proposed a 2,400-kilometre rail line that could move up to five million barrels of oil a day from Fort McMurray, Alta., to the port of Valdez, Alaska by way of northern B.C. and the Yukon. The oil would then be shipped to Asia.

A feasibility study is underway for G7G’s proposed Unifying Nations Railway Company, or UNRailCo, said G7G CEO Matt Vickers, adding the project is poised to go ahead regardless of whether Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is approved.

“It’s going to be viable and feasible regardless of any and all pipelines,” said Vickers, noting the project directors have been purposefully “flying under the radar” until feasibility studies have been completed and a route has been finalized.

Oil transfer by rail as a whole has largely been off the public’s radar until now, said Stewart. He said he hopes the Lac-Megantic crash will alert Canadians to the trend and encourage them to insist the federal government enforce existing regulations.

“I think what we have to do is make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Rail-transport policy expert Avrom Shtern, who also serves as spokesman for the Montreal-based Green Coalition, echoed the sentiment.

“Every mode (of transportation) has its nightmare scenarios. This one is it for the railways,” he said. “This (accident) was absolutely the perfect storm.”

The federal regulations and standards governing rail operations in Canada are complex and numerous. Companies such as Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, the railway involved in the Lac-Magentic crash, are responsible for ensuring the safety of their rail lines, equipment and operations. This includes inspection, testing and maintenance programs in accordance with regulatory requirements. When a company is transporting dangerous goods such as crude oil, the rules — at least on paper — get even stricter.

The brakes and safety system on a train carrying hazardous materials must be inspected before and during every trip, for example. Employees must be regularly certified by the federal government, and no conductor can work for more than 12 hours straight, no matter what the train is carrying.

Transport Canada’s oversight role requires it to monitor railway companies for compliance with these rules, in addition to conducting audits, inspections and investigations. If a company fails to comply or has an accident, the government is also responsible for imposing fines and other sanctions.

That’s where the problems begin, according to Shtern.

“I think the government, especially after austerity cuts, relies more and more on the industry to police itself. It’s unacceptable. You can’t just write rules and expect the (train companies) to police themselves.

“I think it’s high time the government came back into the game and reined them in. They’re not doing their job.”

With files from Postmedia and the Canadian Press

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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The Long Chain of Responsibility Behind an Oily and Deadly Train Wreck

An aerial photograph of the deadly fire in Lac Megantic, a town in Quebec, caused by the derailment of a train carrying oil from North Dakota to a New Brunswick refinery.

Around the smoldering, oil-soaked crater in the heart of Lac-Mégantic, a small Quebec town where an unmanned train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil derailed and exploded early on Saturday, killing at least 13 people*, the search for victims and causes is still on.

Attention will soon focus on some misstep by a train crewman or maintenance worker or the like. But the chain of responsibility goes much further. While investigations proceed, here’s some context to mull.

In case you missed it, the oil was being carried from America’s new oil patch, the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota, to a St. John, New Brunswick, refinery that, according to the owner, Irving Energy, sends more than half of its 300,000 daily barrels of petroleum products back across the border to the northeastern United States.

As I wrote during the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, as long as we depend heavily on oil, we all “own” a portion of every disaster related to oil extraction, transport or use.

An important article in the Montreal Gazette notes that even as Canada’s conservative leader Stephen Harper conveyed his grief about the calamity, the government was deeply cutting the budget of the agency responsible for safeguarding train transport:

At a time when train shipments of crude oil are expected to skyrocket in Canada, the federal government is cutting funding for Transport Canada, the country’s transportation regulator, by almost 30 per cent, down to $1.5 billion, according to government spending estimates for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
One would hope that, in the face of this tragedy, that gutting of those budgets will end. (Canada is hardly alone in cutting budgets for important government agencies.)

Until long-term shifts in relevant policies — like stricter vehicle efficiency standards — more deeply curtail oil demand in the United States, the lack of pipeline capacity will continue to increase train transport of fuel from North American oil fields. As always, tradeoffs result.

The rising pressure for rail shipments was explored in depth earlier this year in “Busting Bottlenecks in the Bakken,” an article in Fed Gazette, a publication of the Minnesota Federal Reserve (yes, weird, but it’s a thorough, interesting piece) and in this Christian Science Monitor story: “Pipelines can’t keep up with North American oil boom.”

A helpful Bloomberg article today, “Quebec Disaster Spurs Rail-Versus-Pipelines Debate on Oil,” digs in on the relative merits of pipeline and train transport of oil. But a quote in Ian Austen’s story in The Times best conveys how the data on pipeline or rail safety can be interpreted differently depending on one’s worldview:

Edward Whittingham, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Calgary, Alberta, said there was not conclusive research weighing the safety of the two shipment methods.

“The best data I’ve seen indicates,” he said, “depending on your perspective, both are pretty much as safe as each other, or both are equally unsafe. There’s safety and environmental risks inherent in either approach.”
At Grist, John Upton offers an overheated analogy in rejecting debates about which transportation method is safer:

[T]he comparison obfuscates an obvious reality: The oil can’t be moved safely at all. (Same goes for natural gas.)

After a string of pipeline and rail accidents in recent years, it’s clear that letting the energy industry move incendiary bulk fluids around the continent is like tossing a book of matches into the crib to keep little Johnny happy while his folks stare at the television. And that’s without even considering the climate impacts of the fossil-fuel mining binge, or the many hazards of fracking.
Of course, this description leaves out that it is consumer demand for petroleum products that is driving the shipments. It’s nice to wish that the United States could magically go cold turkey on oil and other fuels overnight and simply stop all of those trains and shut down those pipelines.

But in the real world, the transition to new energy sources will take a very long time. That means choosing among a suite of imperfect options is unavoidable. My view is that, with strengthened standards and oversight, pipelines win out over rail for moving oil or related products.

But it’s also vital that any push on expanding pipelines, or oil (or gas) extraction, has to be accompanied by a lockstep push on reducing demand and environmental impacts.

This is why President Obama needs to be sure he articulates a cogent overarching energy policy to accompany his relatively meaningless “all of the above” energy mantra.

Needless to say, the same is true for Canada and its leaders, as was effectively described in a piece by Peter Tertzakian in The Globe & Mail today:

Canada is one of the largest producers of primary energy resources. We have world scale reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, hydroelectric power, wood and other renewable sources too.

Yet despite our global energy stature, we have a sad lack of cohesive, pro-active thinking about how we should be producing, consuming and trading all our valuable energy resources, not just oil. Lac-Mégantic is a most unfortunate metaphor: how we think about energy is like a train without a conductor.
5:29 p.m. | Postscript | A report released by the International Energy Agency in May has a section on transport risks that is highly relevant (seen via the FuelFix blog):

“Increasing volumes of crude oil transported by rail raise questions of safety,” the IEA said in its medium-term oil market report. [link] “Our analysis reveals that compared to pipelines, rail incident rates are higher while the opposite holds for spill rates.”

Deadly Derailment in Quebec Underlines Oil Debate

Christinne Muschi/Re
OTTAWA — The police said on Sunday that at least five people had died and 40 were missing after runaway railroad tank cars filled with oil derailed and exploded in a small Quebec town.

“We know there will be more deaths,” Lt. Michel Brunet of Quebec’s provincial police told reporters in Lac-Mégantic, where the fires continued to burn on Sunday.

The derailment and explosions, which took place around 1:15 a.m. on Saturday, underscored a debate in the effort to transport North America’s oil across long distances: is it safer and less environmentally destructive to move huge quantities of crude oil by train or by pipeline?

Visiting the town on Sunday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper compared it to a “war zone.”

The fires, which incinerated at least 30 buildings in the core of Lac-Mégantic, a tourist town of 6,000 people about 150 miles east of Montreal, limited the work of accident investigators, as well as attempts to search for survivors and the remains of victims.

In a statement, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway said the train had been parked outside Lac-Mégantic for the night with no crew members on board. Its locomotive had been shut down, “which may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place,” the statement said.

The railway did not respond to further questions, but Reuters, quoting officials from the company, said the oil aboard the train had come from the Bakken oil fields of the Western United States.

The Bakken oil deposits, which are often drilled through hydrofracking, have become a major source of oil for the railroads to move because the deposits lack direct pipeline links. Canada’s oil sands producers, frustrated by a lack of pipeline capacity, are also turning to trains to ship their products.

Their move to rail comes as the Obama administration continues to weigh an application for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver synthetic crude oil and bitumen, an oil-containing substance, from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. An analysis of the pipeline plan for the State Department concluded that if the pipeline was rejected, oil sands producers would instead turn to railways for shipments to the United States.

Both the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway have extensive rail networks into the United States and have been promoting what the industry often calls a “pipeline on rails” to serve the oil sands. Mark Hallman, a spokesman for Canadian National, said the railway moved 5,000 carloads of crude oil to the United States from Canada in 2011, increased that amount to 30,000 carloads in 2012 and “believes it has the scope to double this business in 2013.”

Unlike pipeline proposals, however, the escalation of rail movements of oil, including light oil shipments from the Bakken fields as well as from similar unconventional, or tight, oil deposits in Canada, is not covered by any regular government or regulatory review.

“We have an explosion of tight oil production in Canada and the United States, and most of it is moving by train,” said Anthony Swift, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “But this process has happened without due diligence.”

Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada who has examined the increased use of oil trains, criticized railways in Canada and the United States for continuing to use older oil tank cars that he said were found to be unsafe more than 20 years ago.

A 2009 report by the National Transportation Safety Board about a Canadian National derailment in Illinois called the design of those tank cars “inadequate” and found that it “made the cars subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” Television images suggested that the surviving tank cars on the Lac-Mégantic train were of the older design.

Mr. Hallman, the spokesman for Canadian National, did not respond to questions about the safety of tank cars or the consequences of the Lac-Mégantic derailment for rail oil shipments in general. However, he said, “this tragedy notwithstanding, movement of hazardous material by rail not only can be, but is being, handled safely in the vast majority of instances.” Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, declined to comment.

The comparative safety of railways over pipelines has been the subject of much debate. Speaking in New York in May, Mr. Harper emphasized that the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to an increase in oil sands shipments by rail, which he called “more environmentally challenging” than pipelines.

“We have seen some major safety risks associated with the crude-by-rail regime,” Mr. Swift, the lawyer, said.

But Edward Whittingham, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Calgary, Alberta, said there was not conclusive research weighing the safety of the two shipment methods.

“The best data I’ve seen indicates,” he said, “depending on your perspective, both are pretty much as safe as each other, or both are equally unsafe. There’s safety and environmental risks inherent in either approach.”

Accidents involving pipelines, Mr. Whittingham said, can be more difficult to detect and can release greater amounts of oil. Rail accidents are more frequent but generally release less oil. The intensity of the explosions and fires at Lac-Mégantic, he said, came as a “big surprise” to him and other researchers, given that the tank cars had been carrying crude oil, rather than a more volatile form like gasoline.

While Mr. Whittingham hopes that it will not be the case, he anticipates that proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline will use the rail accident to push their case with the Obama administration.

Quebec disaster: Oil shipments by rail have increased 28,000 per cent since 2009

It has reminded the business community and oil sector that, unlike pipelines, railways don’t come with burdensome long-term contracts, and noted that heavy crude also needs to be diluted when pushed through a pipeline.

The savings with train transportation can run as high as 30 per cent, per shipment, the association claims.

“This 30 per cent difference in load factor is a key element in making rail a competitive option for transporting crude,” said Bourque’s statement, posted on the group website.

He also defended the safety of rail shipments.

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NEWS Release: petrochemical sheen on Athabasca River

Subject: For Immediate Release: First Nation discovers large petrochemical sheen on Athabasca River; Alberta’s new energy regulator missing in action

For Immediate Release:

First Nation discovers large petrochemical sheen on Athabasca River; Alberta’s new energy regulator missing in action

July 7, 2013, FORT MCMURRAY – The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is demanding answers and action from the Alberta government following reports of a large possibly petrochemical spill into the Athabasca River. The large visible peteochemical sheen may be from a previous spill that regulators failed to contain or from a new release. Either way it has been left unaddressed and has forced the community to close the communities water intake.

Early Saturday morning a community member from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) reported a large oily sheen on the Athabasca river about 60 km north of Fort McMurray that according to his account stretched over 5 km.

The sheen, that from pictures and eye-witness account appears to be petrochemical in nature, was reported both to the Alberta Governments new Alberta Energy Regulator and the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources. After silence from both government bodies, Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam flew over the site late Saturday afternoon reporting that the sheen now stretched for over 100 kms, and had soaked river banks. Nation members also took samples and pictures of the spill.

“Our Nation faces another toxic threat to our water supply and our calls for action are met by silence by the Alberta government and their new energy regulator. Our members appear to be the only world class monitoring system Alberta has,” said Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam.

The finding of the spill happened on the same day that hundreds of people from all across Canada gathered in Fort McMurray to participate in a healing walk through the inundated tar sands region.

“It’s tragically ironic that we would find this sheen on the same day that we walk to heal the land from tar sands destruction,” remarked Adam. “This spill is one of the number of reasons why we walk and is a oily reminder of Alberta’s growing pipeline and tar sands problem. The Alberta government needs to address these problems, ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.”

Pictures taken of the spill can be viewed here:

For more information contact:
Eriel Deranger, ACFN Communications Coordinator 780-903-6598

First Nation discovers large petrochemical sheen on Athabasca River; Alberta’s new energy regulator missing in action

Eriel Deranger
Tar Sands Communication Coordinator
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation


Michael Toledano
The most shocking thing about Sarnia, Ontario’s “Chemical Valley” is that people actually live there.

Collectively forming a post-human landscape, more than sixty oil refineries and petro-chemical plants operate within 25km of the valley – accounting for 40% of Canada’s total chemical industry. The air is among the most polluted in North America, carrying with it an unmistakable chemical stench. It is a toxic stew of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, toluene, benzene, styrene, mercury, lead, nickel, and etcetera. Visitors are advised to wear chemical masks or respirators.

The premise of the “Toxic Tour,” the first-ever walking tour of Chemical Valley, was absurd. Associated with Idle No More, the tour brought pedestrians to a place where they are clearly not meant to be – a landscape of massive, toxin-emitting industrial structures. It is the type of place most frequently experienced from within a car with windows drawn shut, though the valley’s toxic stench pervades even a closed vehicle. The valley’s main throughway, Vidal Street, is typically congested with cars, trucks, and tankers – though, ironically, this same road contains the only bike lane in South Sarnia. The bike lane is part of a wider, half-assed effort on the part of the city and its chemical giants to pass off the valley as a healthy place: Bus shelters line the area with the message “Think Green, Take the Bus,” while an Lanxess parking lot sign encourages employees to “Stay Fit, Walk Farther, Live Longer.”

Further along the tour, the polite pretence of green-washing the valley is abandoned completely. Sandwiched between massive Dow Chemical, Suncor, and Shell facilities is Aamjiwnaang, a First Nations reserve with a population of about 850. The reserve is surrounded on all sides by refineries and petroleum facilities, many of which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Its population has grown accustomed to living inside an industrial nightmare. About half of Chemical Valley’s industrial facilities operate within five kilometres of the reserve, with some homes and community facilities (a basketball court, a baseball diamond, the band office, and for many years a daycare) immediately next door to refineries. “I can see Shell from my window,” Ada Lockridge, an Aamjiwnaang resident, told me.

In true apocalyptic fashion, every Monday at noon the chemical plants test their chemical leak warning sirens – an emergency system rarely used when an actual emergency occurs. According to Vanessa Gray, an Aamjiwnaang band member whose family moved off the reserve because of health concerns, sirens only go off “when a leak is reported. It’s not very often that leaks are actually reported, they happen all the time. People know because of the flares getting really big. They know when the smell is very strong, or very different in the air.”

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s burial grounds, physically severed from the reserve by a massive Suncor facility, were initially surrounded by Suncor surveillance cameras that recorded community burials – though some cameras were withdrawn due to community protest. Warning signs mark the buried oil and natural gas pipelines that run throughout Aamjiwnaang, coming up to vent in peoples’ lawns and near children’s playgrounds. Aamjiwnaang’s waterfront, overtaken by Shell facilities, looks out to refineries and coal burning plants across the US border. In a part of the St. Clair River, where liquid run-off is released by Shell, the water maintains an irregularly high temperature, often releasing steam and a strong gasoline odour.

While Sarnia at large suffers from exposure to airborne toxins, with higher rates of hospitalization than the rest of Ontario, the problems are compounded in Aamjiwnaang. The reserve is a sort of industrial sacrifice zone, continuously exposed to pollutants known to cause cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, developmental and reproductive disorders – Aamjiwnaang has, for instance, a 39% rate of miscarriage and an anomalous birth ratio of two women for every man born (as opposed to national average of approximately 1:1). Vanessa Gray explained to me that the health of both herself and her siblings improved after leaving the reserve, even though she moved just down the road to Corunna and later to downtown Sarnia. “A white community is not surrounded by this. Stephen Harper doesn’t live next to this,” she said.

Aamjiwnaang’s out-dated welcome sign, which reads “Population: 1,800,” betrays the truth of its endangered population. Many have abandoned the reserve due to health problems, often leaving behind elderly family members. Others stay because they cannot afford to leave. But a community continues to exist in this polluted wasteland – life goes on in toxic air. For the toxic tour, many tourists (myself included) came prepared with opulent respiratory protection systems, while only a few Aamjiwnaang residents bothered with chemical masks. Vanessa Gray explained that “Seeing those facilities every day, it’s not a big deal and we’re so used to being abused . . . it’s too hard to think about it every day.” From the perspective of an outsider, it is difficult to imagine seeing a place like this as anything other than an enlivened tragedy. Yet, when looking at my photos of the reserve, Ada Lockridge criticized “I wish you took photos of some of the nice houses too.”

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1 dead, many missing after Quebec train blasts

One person has been declared dead after a train derailment in the tight-knit community of Lac-Mégantic, Que., sparked explosions and a major blaze.

The train, which was carrying crude oil, rolled away overnight after it was parked by an engineer. It derailed in the heart of the small town in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, forcing close to 2,000 people from their homes.

Witnesses reported between five and six explosions overnight in the town of about 6,000 people. The derailment happened at about 1 a.m. ET, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal. About 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes overnight, and several hundred more also left their homes on Saturday afternoon because of air quality concerns.

‘It’s like the town has been cut by a knife.’—Grégory Gomez del Prado, Quebec provincial police

Quebec provincial police confirmed one death on Saturday afternoon, and Sgt. Grégory Gomez del Prado told CBC it’s possible up to 100 people could be missing, although he said it is difficult to pin down an exact number.

“It’s like the town has been cut by a knife,” he said, referring to the fire that tore through the community’s downtown.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be visiting the community Sunday to assess the damage and meet with officials.

Harper sent his thoughts out to the community on Saturday afternoon. He said the government was monitoring the situation and was standing ready to provide extra support.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning’s tragic train derailment,” he said in a statement. “We hope evacuees can return to their homes safely and quickly,” he said.
‘Total mayhem’

Zeph Kee, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Lac-Mégantic, said he saw a huge fireball coming from the city’s downtown early Saturday morning.

The area surrounding the explosion site was a popular place on the evenings, and witnesses said the bars and restaurants were bustling with people when the first explosion hit.

Kee said one of the bars, which was packed with people enjoying their drinks on the patio, is now gone along with dozens of other buildings and homes that were flattened by the blast.

“It was total mayhem … people not finding their kids,” Kee said.

Isabelle Aller, who was visiting the area, says she has been calling her friends ever since the explosion, and they haven’t answered their phones.

“The more time that passes, the more we are worried,” she said.

Aller says after the first explosion, some people went to the scene to see what was going on.

Several explosions followed afterwards.
Train inexplicably rolls away

The derailed train belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway, which owns more than 800 kilometres of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick, according to the company’s website.

Chairman Edward Burhardt said an engineer parked the train west of Lac-Mégantic before he went to a local hotel for the night.

While other details remain unclear, the train rolled away later that night and derailed in the centre of the town.

“He had parked the train, so far as we can determine, properly,” Burhardt said, adding that the brakes were properly applied.

The company will have to wait for clearance from authorities before they can look for more answers.

Burhardt said that while it’s not clear how much oil has been spilled, his company is committed to cleaning up.

“We’re pledging a complete cleanup and remediation of the area,” he said.
Mayor holds back tears

The teary-eyed mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Colette Roy-Laroche, said emergency services are doing everything possible to deal with the crisis.

“We have deployed all resources to ensure that we can support our citizens,” she said.

‘It’s terrible. We’ve never seen anything like it.’—Claude Bédard, Lac-Mégantic resident

A spokesperson for Quebec’s Environment Ministry says 73 rail cars filled with crude oil were involved. At least four of the cars exploded, sending a huge cloud of thick, black smoke into the air.

The fire, which can be seen for several kilometres, spread to a number of homes. Authorities say some 30 buildings were affected.

“It’s dreadful,” said Lac-Mégantic resident Claude Bédard. “It’s terrible. We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”
Firefighters called in from U.S.

More than 150 firefighters, some from as far away as Sherbrooke, Que., and the United States, worked from the early Saturday morning to bring the flames under control. While the fire continued to burn in the afternoon, authorities said it had been contained.
lac mégantic, quebec

A large but as-yet undetermined amount of fuel is also reported to have spilled into the Chaudière River. Some residents say the water has turned an orange colour. Mayor Roy-Laroche assured the public that the town’s drinking-water supply is safe, and she encouraged residents to limit their water consumption as much as possible.

Experts from Environment Quebec were also on the scene to keep an eye on the town’s air quality.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

Aerial view of the fire in Lac Mégantic. A train carrying crude oil derailed sparking a major explosion and fire that led to the evacuation of about 1,000 people from their homes. (Sûreté du Québec)

Train carrying crude oil explodes in Quebec

By Reuters5:31PM BST 06 Jul 2013

Police in Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of about 6,000 people, said they have been unable to determine if there were any casualties. Several people are thought to be missing.

Fire officials said around 30 buildings in the town centre were destroyed, some by the initial blast and others by the subsequent fire. There were reports of up to 60 people missing, although this has not been officially confirmed.

“When you see the centre of your town almost destroyed, you’ll understand that we’re asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,” a tearful town Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said four pressurised tanker cars blew up after the train, which had 73 cars in all, came off the rails shortly after 1am. Fire officials said they feared more of the tanker cars were at risk of exploding.

Around 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Burnaby MP vows to fight pipeline expansion

Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart is vowing to do all he can to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

As previously reported in the Burnaby NOW, Stewart was the guest speaker at a meeting hosted by Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion last Thursday. In what were perhaps his toughest words yet for Kinder Morgan, Stewart promised to fight the project and call a meeting with opposing environmental groups.

“If we stand together, we can stop this thing, and that’s really what we have to do,” Stewart said, addressing a crowd of roughly 50 people at McGill library. “I’m firmly on the side with the community that opposes this project, and I will do everything I can to stop it.”

Stewart also spoke about the latest developments with Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion and how people can get involved in the National Energy Board review process, and he distributed the company’s maps of newly released pipeline routing options.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline has been in operation since the early 1950s, and the company would like to twin the existing line to increase shipping capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000, pending National Energy Board approval.

Speaking mostly to a sympathetic audience, Stewart characterized the project as a “brand new pipeline,” rather than an expansion. Stewart also said the current pipeline right-of-way is 18 to 30 metres wide, and he pointed out that National Energy Board guidelines call for a 30-metre safety zone on either side of the right-of-way.

“There is a swath of land almost 100 metres wide that the company has rights to,” Stewart said.

(According to the board, digging in the safety zone and the right-of-way is forbidden without the pipeline company’s approval, but development can happen in the safety zone.)

Stewart said he would offer workshops to help the public deal with paperwork involved in making a submission to the National Energy Board.

Stewart said there were two main types of people who opposed the pipeline project: the environmentalists, who reject the line “at any price,” and the “economic folks,” who think the project is a bad deal and want a cut of the profits.

“What business folks are saying (is) we want a slice of this,” he said, suggesting the two groups work together.

Stewart told the audience that Kinder Morgan makes $5 per barrel, which translates to $5 million per day, and that the business community wanted a cut to the tune of $2.50 per barrel but that Kinder Morgan was only offering five cents. Kinder Morgan does not own the oil in the pipeline; the company simply charges customers for transporting the products. The NOW asked Kinder Morgan to confirm Stewart’s claims about the $5/barrel figure and talks of sharing profits, but no one from the company was available for an interview.

However, media relations staff Lisa Clement forwarded a February letter from Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson to Stewart to clear up various issues, including routing, displacement of landowners on the right-of-way and an “inappropriate and misleading” suggestion that Anderson would receive a $25-million bonus if the pipeline was constructed. (To read the letter, go to Jennifer Moreau’s blog at

As for Stewart’s suggestion that the “economic folks” wanted a bigger share of the profits, Clement forwarded the following statement on behalf of Anderson in response: “I welcome the opportunity to join the B.C. government, other governments and key stakeholders in this dialogue to discuss economic benefits for B.C. associated with the proposed expanded pipeline. I am confident that with a collaborative approach we can find a solution that is acceptable to the B.C. government and the citizens of B.C.”

During the question-and-answer period at the BROKE meeting, all of the audience queries were sympathetic to Stewart’s position except for one gentleman, who challenged Stewart’s comment that the Enbridge pipeline project was going to use workers from China.

“I am a strong supporter of the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” the audience member said. “We need pipelines to export bitumen to China and the U.S. … We are forgoing massive revenues.”

The BROKE meeting was held on the same day Kinder Morgan hosted an open house and announced routing options for Burnaby. Kinder Morgan is mostly planning to install the twinned line along the right-of-way for the current pipeline, but in Burnaby, because of decades of development, the company is looking at building the pipeline down Lougheed Highway and then up to the tank farm and over to the Westridge Marine Terminal, where tankers fill up with crude.

© Copyright (c) Burnaby Now

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