WINNIPEG, Man.— The Manitoba government says a rail company’s plans to start transporting oil across hundreds of kilometres of remote rail line built on permafrost is too risky to the environment and the safety of those who live in the north, said a Canadian Press report.
According to the report, NDP Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said in light of the deadly train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., earlier this year, Manitoba can’t support the shipment of crude oil through its fragile northern environment to the port in Churchill.
Omnitrax Canada, the company that operates the only rail line up to Churchill, on Hudson Bay, was planning a trial shipment of crude oil next month. The company said it hoped to eventually transport millions of litres of light sweet crude oil a year up to the community where it can be loaded onto tankers, said the report.
While Omnitrax said the plan is safe and will help create much-needed jobs in the north, environmentalists and First Nations worry it will jeopardize the livelihoods of aboriginal communities and pose a huge risk to wildlife. Churchill, known as the “polar bear capital of the world,” is an eco-tourism destination for polar bear, beluga whale and bird watching.
The province of Manitoba has paid to help upgrade the rail line over the years and supports diversifying the shipments that go through Churchill, Ashton said. But Manitoba can’t support any plan to ship oil through Churchill without further upgrades and complete transparency regarding the cargo carried by the trains, he added.
Figures from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada show there have been 63 accidents on the Hudson Bay rail line between 2003 and 2012. All but 10 were derailments.
“Our advice to Omnitrax would be, go back to the drawing board on this,” Ashton told reporters.
Although the rail line runs through Manitoba, the track is under federal jurisdiction so Ashton said the province can do little to stop the shipment of oil.
Omnitrax president Merv Tweed, the former MP for the Brandon-Souris riding, told reporters the shipment of crude oil by rail is perfectly safe and the tracks don’t require any additional upgrade.
The company has been holding consultations in the north and a trial shipment of oil slated for next month is on hold while the company continues these consultations, Tweed said.
Omnitrax is determined to grow the port of Churchill while bringing jobs and prosperity to northern Manitoba, Tweed said.
First Nations, who still rely on the wilderness for their living, are also concerned moving crude oil through their traditional territory will threaten their way of life, said the CP report.