Oil-by-rail terminal in Rupert could jeopardize salmon and seafood
We northerners fought for and achieved a de facto north coast ban on oil tankers. It has protected our unique ecosystem, seafood and culture for decades. If these guys really are serious about oil by rail down the Skeena, we can’t let them just sneak in.
Most everyone in Rupert knows about the huge $90 million rail offloading facility being built in the Port of Prince Rupert. It is on Ridley Island at the mouth of the Skeena, beside Lelu Island whose eelgrass beds are threatened by LNG. But no one in Rupert has been worried about the rail project because we were told it was for potash, not oil, and the berth doesn’t require dredging in critical salmon habitat.
An identical, but smaller, rail offloading facility was just finished in Washington state at the mouth of another famous salmon river: the Columbia (SaveOurSkeenaSalmon.org has images). That port recently signed a contract to offload 360,000 barrels of Bakken oil per day—Enbridge magnitudes. Scariest of all, there is a terrible battle going on because they signed that oil shipping contract despite originally telling the Columbia estuary community of Vancouver, Wash. that the rail facilities were for potash!
Rupert’s railroad utility corridor (RRUC) is strikingly similar to new facilities being built in the tarsands for loading oil. The distinctive curvature of the multi-rail lines is for unit trains. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says that most of the large-scale facilities in the tarsands that can load a unit train will be moving heavy oil, diluted bitumen, rail bitumen or raw (undiluted) bitumen. Planning documents for the Rupert port show a 100-acre liquid bulk tank farm in the area enclosed by the rail lines. Each tank was specified to hold 50 million litres. Aframax oil supertankers hold 100 million litres plus. An oil-by-rail terminal would need this kind of tank-farm buffer, whereas neither LNG, coal nor potash requires them. In a meeting with port operations earlier this year, a slide was presented which showed a bulk liquid terminal as a “near term project.”
In 2012, the Port of Prince Rupert did a risk assessment; in it they forecast 100 Aframax oil supertankers and 100 LNG carriers leaving Ridley Island starting 2015. In a 2011 report they state: “The Port of Prince Rupert has a real and immediate opportunity to facilitate the development of new export capacities, targeting the Asia Pacific region for bulk commodities such as iron ore, potash, mineral concentrates, and bulk liquids such as vegetable oils and”—crucially—“petroleum products.”
The 2012 Ridley Island Coal Terminal Annual Report states in a note that it “is vested in seeking an active liquid bulk business and or other product ventures.” The coal terminal is adjacent to the new rail lines and they spent $15 million 2009-2012 on the noted expense category.
The price has fallen out of potash and that project is unlikely to proceed, but Prince Rupert’s RRUC is nearing completion, the rail line to the tarsands being upgraded and an oil and gas insider (name withheld) is warning us to wake up, oil by rail is of immediate concern: “All the surveying has been completed on the Fraser/Thompson side of things, all the access points for a spill response plan have been assessed and now they’re in the process of putting all these things into a document for CN.”
The Port of Prince Rupert has been advertising about their safety but they haven’t told us about 100-car unit trains loaded with oil travelling along the Skeena.
I hate to tell you, but there is a plan afoot that could see oil supertankers loading in the Skeena estuary late next year or 2016, unless of course we stop them.
Luanne Roth, North Coast Energy Campaigner T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation LRoth@citywest.ca