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Andrew Weaver: British Columbia and the Alberta tar sands

Andrew Weaver | Georgia Straight - February 11th 2014

Read the full article on the originating site

Anyone in the media business knows that a headline writer’s goal is to attract a potential reader to an article. So when a provocative headline says something like " Green Party MLA supports refinery", you can bet that heads will turn. In this age of sound bites and 140 character tweets, too often the subtleties explored within the full article are overlooked. And that is precisely what is wrong with much of our political discourse in British Columbia. Issues are not black and white; they are nuanced shades of grey.

In what follows, I provide an analysis of the issues surrounding the expansion of tar sands and proposed pipeline projects in North America. I am hoping this piece will provide a catalyst for further discussion.

1. Bitumen by rail

In British Columbia, bitumen is currently being brought by rail to Vancouver. In fact, bitumen by rail is on the rise and, frankly, there is little we can do about that.

Under the Canada Transportation Act there are a number of obligations that rail companies must comply with. If they do not comply with these obligations they can be taken to court. Here are three examples:

  • Section 113 – “a railway company must provide, according to its powers, adequate and suitable accommodation for the receiving, loading, carrying, unloading and delivering of all traffic offered for carriage on its railway”.
  • Section 125 – “No railway company shall, by any combination, contract or agreement, express or implied, or by any other means, prevent traffic from being moved on a continuous route from the point of origin to the point of destination.”
  • Section 137 – “A railway company shall not limit or restrict its liability to a shipper for the movement of traffic except by means of a written agreement signed by the shipper or by an association or other body representing shippers.”

So what does this all mean? If a company based in Alberta wishes to ship heavy crude to Prince Rupert or Kitimat they can choose to ship it through a railway corporation. Legally CNI or CP would be obligated to accept such a cargo, as long as it met the current regulations (e.g. type of tanker car, adequate loading and unloading facilities, proper labeling and quantities). They could negotiate on liability concerns but must sign an agreement dividing the proportion of liability if an accident was to occur. But in other words, the rail company cannot say ‘no’.

Numerous derailments have been in the news of late. I am reasonably confident that I am not alone in British Columbia in wanting to slow down the flow of bitumen by rail though Vancouver and numerous communities in the B.C. interior.

Read the entire article here.

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