Letter: Pipelines safer than rail?

Tuesday, January 31 2017

It seems like every pipeline proponent from Prime Minister Trudeau on down has taken to saying, “Pipelines are safer than rail.” Are they really?

Pipelines are safer than trains for transporting dilbit, which is tar sands bitumen diluted with petro-chemicals so that it will flow through a pipe. Shipping dilbit by rail is a very bad idea because it is highly toxic and highly flammable. A spark can ignite it. If there is a dilbit spill, you aren’t even supposed to use a cell phone.

Undiluted bitumen, however, is altogether different. It doesn’t catch fire. If a rail car carrying bitumin overturned in a river, the bitumin would sit there in a lump. Had the train that derailed in Lac Megantic carried bitumin, there would have been no tragedy. If Trudeau, Notley and the rest really were concerned about the safety of transporting tar sands oil, shipping raw bitumen by rail is the way to go.

There are other problems with piping dilbit: pipeline spills tend to be bigger than rail spills. The latter are noticed immediately; pipelines can spew for days before the rupture is discovered – as we have just seen once again in Saskatchewan. And dilbit is more acidic than plain old crude oil. Pipelines used for dilbit have more failures than those carrying crude. So another option, if safety was really the chief concern, would be to upgrade the bitumen in Northern Alberta and ship a less volatile, less toxic product.

Upgraders, however, cost money, and money is really what the Kinder Morgan and Keystone pipelines are about: sell off the tar sands oil quick, before the market crashes because other countries, unlike Canada, have gotten serious about climate change.

~ Bob Bossin