Approximately 1.2 million litres of oil leaked from that train derailment near Guernsey earlier this month.
That’s only slightly less than the 1.5 million litres lost in in a nearby rail oil tanker car spill a month earlier. However, it is no less dangerous.
That we still don’t know the cause of either spill is problematic. But such unknown dangers of shipping oil by rail tanker are just the beginning of the issues in play.
Every oil tanker moving on rail — and those living in rural Saskatchewan need not be reminded how many of those there out there — means that there is one less car moving potash or grain. We are still in the middle of winter and, at any given time, that could mean weather-related slow downs.
Now, add to the mix the potential for blockades set up by anti-pipeline protests. Further add to that the actual slowdown of trains requested by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau for precautionary/safety reasons as a result of the Guernsey derailments.
Such issues are bound to slow our economy. This adds to the arguments for more pipelines, so you might be wondering exactly what it is that’s standing in the way.
Well, there are a few things.
The first is that pipelines have their own inherent problems, as people in this province learned in 2016 with the spill of the oil into the North Saskatchewan River because of a breach in the Husky pipeline.
That said, we do have systems in place to inspect pipelines and such spills are a relatively rare occurrence. Certainly, a pipeline spill is less inclined than a train derailment to have explosive results.
But the biggest reason why we don’t have more pipelines is they are rather expensive to built — both in dollar and environmental approval terms.
We certainly learned this with the Energy East pipeline that ran into economic viability issues and opposition in Quebec — even though there was a very good argument that such a pipeline made sense for reasons of Canadian energy self-sufficiency and national unity. (If ever there was a pipeline worthy of federal government support/subsidization, one might think it would be this one.)
We have re-learned this lesson in the furore over the Trans-Mountain pipeline that’s almost doubled in costs since the federal Liberal government bought it two years ago — the result of a combination of delays and rules to ensure that it complied with environment regulations.
One hopes that the Saskatchewan Party government has learned these lessons. Recently, it struck a cabinet committee to examine pipeline development and maybe even consider taxpayer investment.
It’s the latter aspect in which one hopes cabinet’s new Pipeline Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) moves cautiously.
Yes, there’s an argument that the 1,150-kilometre TransMountain pipeline that opens up oil markets to the Far East (while tripling capacity from 300,000 barrels a day) makes economic sense. But does every pipeline make economic sense?
What is the logic in Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison’s suggest that government might consider building a pipeline over the muskeg to Churchill when it doesn’t have oil shipping facilities and is a seasonal port?
Shouldn’t a provincial government that’s doubled our debt to nearly $22 billion since in came to office in 2007 be a little more cautious?
That said, one gets the frustration of the Sask. Party and others to the impediments being put along the way.
There is no doubt that some hardcore environmentalist see the recent derailments as grounds to stop oil production altogether.
This makes no more sense that ignoring the reality of man-made climate change or simple common sense of burning less fossil fuel.
But we still need smart responses to our problems.
Let’s build pipelines, but let’s invest wisely.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.