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Oil-carrying trains derail as foreign-funded environmentalists oppose safer pipelines
Oil-carrying trains derail as foreign-funded environmentalists oppose safer pipelines
Canadian News

Oil-carrying trains derail as foreign-funded environmentalists oppose safer pipelines 

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Multiple train cars filled with oil derailed and leaked in western Manitoba earlier this week. Thankfully, the spill was rapidly contained, and no major repercussions where reported.

None the less, the derailment of more than a dozen train cars poses a serious long-term problem.

How can Canada, a country, that has more than 10% of the world’s oil reserves and ranks as the fourth largest exporter of the substance continue to thrive while transporting its resources by train?

Better yet, how can it do so without destroying the environment around us in the face of growing climate change?

Typically Canada’s oil has been carried by pipeline to the United States, where it is refined.

Over the last few years, as both Canada’s and the United States have increased their production, our capacity to move the resource to new markets has not. As a result, the National Energy Board, our energy regulator, announced in June that 200,000 barrels per day are being exported by rail.

That is an all-time high which also represents a net loss of $15.6 billion from our economy as our oil distribution capacity remain restricted when it comes to markets for sale, while also maintaining higher costs of transport, due to the use of trucks as well as trains.

Worryingly for all of us, the number of barrels transported by train is estimated to double in less than two years as pipeline constraints continue to skyrocket.

This is a serious long-term problem as transport by train can be extremely dangerous and expensive, while oil demand is expected to stay rather consistent even as electric vehicles on the road rise from less than 2 million today to 300 million by 2040.

The dangers of transporting oil by train

According to Brian Westenhaus:

“A typical crude oil tank car might be 32,000 gallons.  A crude oil train could be a 100 or 100s of cars, say 100 for 3,200,000 gallons.  The terrible nasty pipeline crude spill in Arkansas was estimated at a total of 80,000 gallons escaping during the 45 minutes that it took for the leak to be detected and then stopped.  About 2 ½ railcars worth.”

For an example of problems closer to home simply look at the Lac-Megantic disaster, where “several” rail cars carrying oil derailed and caught fire… forcing the evacuation of 2,000, killing 38 and injuring many.

According to Karnie Clay of Carnagie Melon, In terms of dollar figures the costs of spills and accidents calculated in terms of million barrel miles, is $62 for pipelines and $381 for rail.

“Rail costs are much higher because pipelines are mostly laid through thinly populated area, and pipelines are less likely to experience a very expensive disaster in terms of lives lost or property damaged.”

Environmental costs to oil transport

Interestingly, while the greenhouse gas portion of the emissions is slightly higher for pipelines($257 vs $201) the air pollution costs are drastically higher for trains($817 vs $273).

In total, trains maintain higher costs for air pollution and greenhouse gasses, for pipeline transport of crude oil, in particular, the total air pollution and greenhouse gas cost per million barrel-miles is $531, while the cost is $1,015 for rail transport.

With the costs to not developing pipelines quite clear, one has to ask why has Canadian pipeline development become so stalled?

According to the Suzuki foundation, “Twenty-one municipalities, 59 First Nations, 91 per cent of people surveyed at town halls, and 210,000 petition signers say no [to the Trans Mountain expansion].”

While true that some groups do oppose the development of the project, many also support it, 33 first nations groups, for example, have signed benefit agreements with Trans Mountain and stand to gain greatly.

A majority of BC voters, as well as Canadians in general, also support the project. Meaning that for the most part, the project should not face the kind of incredible opposition that it now sees at almost every level of government. In fact, it should be an issue that wins politcians elections.

And yet one after another,projects like the Northern Gateway, Energy East, and now potentially Trans Mountain fall by the wayside.

So what is providing extreme environmentalists with the extra muscle they need?

Foreign funding in Canadian politics

Foreign entities, mainly American groups which according to researcher and blogger Vivian Krause, “have contributed in the neighbourhood of $40-million in recent years to hundreds of Canadian environmental and Indigenous groups.”

This is extremely interesting, as the United States has rapidly become a far larger producer of oil than Canada, yet foreign funds have been focused on land-locking Albertan crude.

The Americans likely focus on Canada due to the fairly minimal level of election spending, or potentialy due to the desire to support their own industries.

In either case, with party donations capped at roughly $1600 per person, $40 million represents an extremely large amount of political capital.

It represents a lot of ads and paid protesters, some which are also subsidized by the Canadian government.

It is also perhaps not that surprising that in the 2015 election, there were twice as many third-party groups flush with cash, which spent a combined total of $6 million, more than 5x as much money when compared to the previous election.

On top of foreign funds, it seems anti-pipeline extremists have also been receiving aid through foreign bots reportedly directed from Iran, Venezuela, and Russia.

According to the CBC, “roughly 21,600 tweets from those troll accounts directly targeted Canadians — many of them with messages critical of Canadian pipeline projects.”

While some Canadians may be quick to point out a large amount of grassroots support for opposing pipeline construction by Canada’s minority, in trying to ignore this foreign funding, they should not underestimate its impact across our political system.

While dialogue between Canadians should always be encouraged, foreign cash in effect represents foreign voices. That is something, which I believe most Canadians would oppose on values alone.

The Canadian political system should be sovereign; it should be decided by Canadians; it should not be hijacked by foreign millionaires bypassing donation limits in the hopes of land-locking Canadians under the false promise of reduced carbon emissions.

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