Chevron Receives Oil by Rail: Should Residents be Concerned?

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While the recent tragedy in Lac-MĂ©gantic, Quebec has put the spotlight on the safety of transporting crude oil by rail, an official at Burnaby’s Chevron refinery stresses there’s little connection with how its own new rail facility operates.

“That’s really not something we feel is reflective of a normal operation at our facility in which the cars are all brought in on a carefully controlled switching operation,” said Ray Lord, spokesperson for Chevron Canada’s Burnaby refinery, “whereas what happened [in Quebec] is a tragic accident involving a runaway train that’s not something in any way related to what we do.”

The Quebec accident involved an unmanned train rolling downhill, eventually derailing and crashing, its crude-filled cars exploding and destroying several buildings. As of Wednesday, the official death toll was 15 with another 60 people reported missing.

Until fairly recently, the North Burnaby refinery has received most of its crude oil supply through Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. But in recent years it has been receiving less than it needs because of apportionment—the supply for customers is reduced because there is more demand for the pipeline’s capacity than it can meet.

As a result, Chevron opened its new crude-by-rail facility in May to help bring in the balance of what it needs.

Lord said since May, it has received about eight to 10 rail cars a day of crude oil, about 6,500 barrels. That represents just under 12 per cent of the 55,000 barrels the refinery processes each day.

For about a year, Chevron has also been receiving another 1,000 barrels a day by tanker truck, he added. The crude is transported to Langley by rail before completing the trip to Burnaby by road.

“We certainly feel that pipelines represent the safest, most cost-effective way to get crude oil to the refinery,” added Lord, noting there are extra costs associated with transporting crude by rail or truck.

As for its new rail facility, Lord said it’s located adjacent to the CP Rail right-of-way, the mainline that runs along the Burrard Inlet foreshore, down the hill and away from residential areas. Full cars come from the east and are dropped off, then empty cars are taken away to be refilled back in Alberta.

Chevron has crews on site 24/7, as the refinery operates non-stop, he said. And the rail facility, like any other operating area within the refinery, is equipped with modern safety systems, including containment and firefighting systems, foam application systems to deal with petroleum fires and an onsite fire brigade.

“Dangerous goods have been transported safely throughout North America for decades and it’s a matter of the materials being handled safely with all the necessary risk mitigations put in place and emergency response procedures that are also established,” Lord said. “We think it can be done safely.”

Meanwhile, in response to the Quebec incident, Burnaby council has asked city staff to report back on rail tank cars carrying oil and other hazardous goods through the city as well as city hall’s relationship with the railways.

Coun. Nick Volkow noted that city hall generally hits roadblocks when trying to liaise with railway companies who operate in the city, despite many rail lines running close to some residential areas.

Due to the Canadian Railway Act, “railways basically operate like the old feudal kings and we in municipalities are treated like serfs and peasants,” Volkow said. “That’s gotta change.”

In a four-year period there has been a 28,000 per cent increase in the volume of crude oil transported by rail tank cars, he said. Yet, the city doesn’t have any say on the railways’ operations.

During the recent heavy flooding in Calgary, that city’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out he had no say when a railway decided to move dangerous cargo over a bridge, during which the bridge collapsed, Volkow said.

He asked that the city staff report look into whether Burnaby city hall is notified in advance when dangerous cargo is going through the city because “it would be our fire department that responds, not the CPR fire department.”