Fraser Forum

Council of Canadians blasts Energy East project (Part 2)

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In a previous post we described how a recent report from the Council of Canadians was fraught with errors of commission. Now in Part 2, we’ll look at the errors of omission.

The Council report has an interesting but irrational implicit assumption that if the pipeline is not approved, Alberta’s bitumen will not be produced and transported. That’s unlikely; oil prices are expected to recover sooner or later, and Alberta’s oil is still expected to find its way to market despite the avid opposition of environmental groups.

Experience tells us that blocking pipelines doesn’t lead to oil staying in the ground, it leads to oil moving by different transportation modes, each of which has its own set of risks. Rail, of course, is the most likely alternative to transport oil in the face of pipeline opposition. And therein lies the rub.

We recently used data from two Canadian regulators, the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, to develop a head-to-head comparison of risks when moving oil and gas by pipeline, or moving the same quantity by rail. The study found that in every year from 2003 to 2013, pipelines had fewer releases per million barrels of oil equivalents transported. Overall, rail was found to be just over 4.5 times more likely to have an occurrence when transporting oil and gas compared to pipelines. The evidence from Canada is clear. Pipelines are the safer way to transport oil and gas.

Evidence from the United States is equally clear. An analysis conducted by Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute compared the safety of transporting oil and gas by pipelines, rail and road. Her analysis found that transporting oil and gas by road and rail resulted in higher incident rates per billion ton-miles of product transported compared to pipelines. In addition, road and rail incidents were associated with higher rates of fatalities and hospitalizations compared to pipelines. Overall, her analysis concluded that pipelines were the best way to ensure oil and gas arrives safely at its destination.

Now, the overwhelming majority of oil moved by either pipeline or rail is safely transported from its origin to its destination—better than 99.99 per cent gets from the point of dispatch to its destination without incident. But when you’re talking about moving large quantities of oil, even small differences in safety factors can add up to a significant difference.

The Council of Canadians may sincerely believe that the movement to lock Alberta’s bitumen reserves in the ground for all time is going to succeed. But the evidence is against them, and Canadians will only be misled by their “no alternative transport” scenario.

The Council managed to cobble together a very scary scenario. However, in doing so, they committed errors of omission and commission that render their report essentially meaningless.

The record of pipeline spills and ruptures portrayed by the Council does not hold water, and their failure to understand (or accept) that Alberta’s bitumen will ultimately find a path to market defies recent history. Should the Energy East pipeline be quashed, more Albertan oil will move by rail, posing more risk—not less—to the people and environments across Canada.


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