CN already transports bitumen by rail - more proposals to do the same are now being floated as Enbridge runs out of steam

Replacing Enbridge with Rail, Other Routes Misses the Point


The tide seems to be turning against the Enbridge Pipeline but we must take great care not to lose by winning.

Industry seems to be talking alternative routes by using rail or other methods.

My old friend Tex Enemark weighs in this morning in an op-ed in the Sun(August 15) and makes several points – we can soak the companies by levying high taxes for rights of way, we can make the pipelines safer (you will note he doesn’t say “safe”), we can use other routes, and that if we don’t permit the pipelines China will retaliate by reducing imports of our other goods.


Let me deal with the last point first – are we to announce to all trading partners, including the USA, that if you threaten our exports, you can come here and do as you please?

This is not a rhetorical question because a new government in 2013 will surely look at Private Power projects, many American owned, which could be canceled, altered or refused in the first place. Do we back off our sovereignty and say, “sorry for even thinking of this, Uncle Sam, please bring your money here and do with us that which you wish”?

Taxing the pipelines misses the point – this isn’t about money but our environment and while I know that old pols seem to believe that money solves all disputes, when it involves our sacred wilderness and our fish, money is off the table.

Making the pipelines safer is, with respect, a non starter. “Safer” does not mean “safe” and the latter is what we insist upon.

Let me pause for a moment and deal with the allegation that we environmentalists are simply bloody minded and are against all projects. The answer to that, from my perspective at any rate, is fourfold:

  1. We question all projects that impact our environment – if we didn’t, corporations would do as they pleased and that’s bad enough as it is.
  2. We insist upon any project that impacts our environment to leave little or no permanent damage. This can be and indeed is done all over the province.
  3. We expect the Precautionary Principle to be always in place, meaning that the onus of proving the environmental viability of any project rests with the proponent.
  4. We regard the safety and protection of our environment as protecting a sacred trust to be passed on.

The issue is unsolvable. It can’t be compromised or mitigated or compensated – not all problems can be solved by compromise, this and lost virginity being examples.

We run a very grave risk here – because once we get rid of the Enbridge line, we will be expected to go away.

We seem to be ignoring the Kinder Morgan line already pumping bitumen across British Columbia and plans to do more are coming. It will be said that because the absence of the Enbridge line removes the tanker issue in Douglas Channel, we can go away.

This simply is not so. Railways simply move the problem. The suggestion by Mr. Enemark that the port of Prince Rupert be used overlooks the fact that that pipeline would be alongside the Skeena River, one of the last great salmon rivers in the world. Always bearing in mind that pipeline leaks are inevitable, do we want to see the same happen to the Skeena that happened to the Kalamazoo?

We are, then, a hell of a long way from success and, in fact, must re-double our efforts.

A response from Tex Enemark:

Well, Rafe, there is a difference between “fair inferences” and quotes. You say flat out I said “safer” which I did not, and then reinforce your point by saying I did not say “safe” when in fact I said neither. I said “politically acceptable”. I think there is a very clear and quantifiable difference between the two. I made no mention of safe pipelines. Nor, as you say in your response, did I say anything about “better testing pipelines”.

One puts me in the position of being some kind of proponent or apologist for pipelines, which I am not. I am simply bringing out issues that have not yet surfaced.

The same with the allegation that I favour a pipeline to Prince Rupert. There are vast differences between the loss/possible breakage of a few rail cars that hold bitumen which will literally go nowhere when they hit cold water, and a pipeline in which the tar has been diluted.

Nonetheless, the damage to my reputation has been done among the readers of your blog.

I think a simple correction is in order, frankly–and fairly.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

5 thoughts on “Replacing Enbridge with Rail, Other Routes Misses the Point

  1. Rafe nails it here once again.

    And so does Surrey Girl.

    The whole debate thus far has been mired in what could be explained as an alternate reality. By playing up Enbridge and the gateway proposal we have allowed the politicos to distract us from what matters while they position themselves for political gains.

    The whole debate has been dominated by all the ususal suspects and barrels of ink has been spent on minutia while avoiding real issues.

    The basic question is should we do it at all and, if so how best can we manage this thing for the benefit of all. Which means factoring in the climate debate, the economics and the transition to alternatives that remove harmful components including the outrageous corporate power oil and gas has facilitated.

    Its been quite a ride but we must ensure we dont lose perspective as Rafe reminds us here.

  2. Where is our moral mandate to mine the tar sands at all? Given the arguments of this Rolling Stone article:
    no wonder Canada’s international reputation is in the dump. Steven Harper is squandering our hard won goodwill in the world as evidenced by our failure to gain a seat on UN Security Council and our need to beg to be included in the Pacific Nations trade agreement. We are the ugly Canadians. Sad day.

  3. Harper has permitted Communist China, to buy up the tar sands. They are also permitted to bring their own people, to work their vast tar sands holdings. Harper has said, China can bring swarms of them over, to build the Enbridge pipeline. China refuses to have the dirty oil refined in Canada. They can do this on the cheap in China, this is part of the deal. They pay their people, starvation wages.

    We know of Premier Redford’s wall on shame web site. China is the worst offender, of not paying what they owe.

    Since the U.S. has purchased CNR. The safety standards, have gone down the tube. Can you imagine a train of tanker cars, spilling in a derailment? This would be an utter disaster. The U.S. won’t care, the tanker train spills will happen in Canada.

    There is a court case over, the deaths of two Chinese workers. We know all about China’s Human Rights, there are none.

    Harper thinks he will get his money, out of Communist China? Well, good luck with that one. The contractors at the tar sands, have a hell of a time, getting China to pay them.

  4. Refining it in Canada is in fact the only solution if we want to export it. Sending corrosive sludge down a pipeline shouldn’t have even been considered if, and this is a big if, our governments are really working for the people of Canada instead of corporations.

  5. Of all the preposterous proposals for dispersing the tar sands dilbit, the one proposal that Albertans seem to reject most completely, is refining the product in Alberta.

    The refineries could be built easily by eliminating the ridiculous tax subsidies that various governments are giving the oil companies and diverting those funds to job creating refinery construction and operation.

    We could and should refine the dilbit in Alberta and ship the refined product wherever it is needed or wanted.

    I guess a win/win proposal versus a lose/lose situation, is too difficult a concept for the Harpers and Olivers of the world to wrap their tiny minds around.

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