MP Duncan introduces private member’s bill to get the job done on oil-rail safety

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Adam Bond, Articling Student

On September 27, Linda Duncan, MP for Edmonton Strathcona, introduced Bill C-304, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods by Rail Act (TDGRA), into the House of Commons. This Bill aims to narrow the regulatory gap between the shipment of oil by pipeline and rail by creating additional requirements for railway operating certificates issued to shippers of dangerous goods. Nature Canada and Canadians generally have serious concerns about the legitimacy and fairness of National Energy Board reviews of proposed oil pipelines; even so, oil pipeline regulation is light years ahead of regulation of transportation of oil by rail.

The use of rail to transport oil (mainly from the oil sands and western shales) has increased significantly in since 2009 with a decline in 2016. With suppressed production due to low oil prices and the Fort McMurray fire, pipeline capacity has been freed up and dependence on rail assuaged. With the cost of shipping a barrel of oil by pipeline at about half to one-third the cost of transporting by rail, shippers are inclined to choose pipelines over rail.

TDGRA is not a sanctioning of oil pipelines or an argument in support of building new pipelines. After all, none of the proposed pipelines have offered any guarantees that transportation of oil by pipeliImage of wetlandsne will correspond to a reduction in transportation by rail. While pipelines may be the less-expensive means of moving oil, when the bitumen oil projects in Alberta begin to hit capacity again pipelines and railways may run oil across the country as “partners in crime”.

Regardless of the relative risk of oil spills by pipeline or rail, the reality is that oil is transported in Canada today by both means, with significantly divergent standards of environmental review and oversight. TEDGRA is a legislative measure that could easily elevate the standard of review and oversight of the transportation of oil by rail to something resembling the standard of review and oversight applied to pipelines.

Linda Duncan’s Bill is not about whether pipeline or rail is the safer method of oil transport; this Bill is about a country where rivers, wetlands, grasslands, cities, towns, and communities are exposed to the risk of a Lac-Mégantic-like derailment every day. The government has a responsibility to do what it can to protect its citizens from these risks, and so far it has done little. TDGRA is a simple and effective measure to get the job done.

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