1. Crude by rail continues to push grain off the tracks, Sept 2, 2014
2. Montana tribal officials cite oil-spurred crime spike, Aug 28
3. Protesters arrested after blocking BNSF oil train, Sept 24
4. Seattle activists mount tripod to stop exploding oil trains, Sept 2
5. DOT rule seeks to prevent runaway oil trains, Sept 10
6. Bakken crude comes under congressional scrutiny, Sept 10
7. Dangers aside, railways reshape crude market, Sept 21
8. Canada mulls insurance fund to aid railways, Sept 22
9. Ottawa quietly reduces Fair Rail grain fines, Sept 25
10. American Petroleum Institute issues inaugural crude-by-rail guidelines, Sept 26
11. Suncor ships first crude to Europe via St. Lawrence River in effort to expand markets, Sept 25
12. Aberdeen council votes unanimously against crude-by-rail, Sept 25
13. Trustee Probes Companies Tied to Lac-Mégantic Train Derailment, Sept 25
14. Pétrole des sables bitumineux : un navire géant arrive à Sorel-Tracy [translation : Tar sands bitumen : A giant oil tanker docks at Sorel –Tracy (Montreal region)], Sept 21
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1. Crude by rail continues to push grain off the tracks
By Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, September 2, 2014
Grains are piled high along North Dakota railroads, awaiting delivery. But the state’s crude oil keeps flowing smoothly. The daily sight of 100-car strings of oil tank cars has frustrated many of North Dakota’s farmers and grain dealers, who are still awaiting their own rail cars to whisk record crop yields to market.
“We want our fair share of the rail capacity, and we’ve pushed very hard on that,” said Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. “We understand our friends in the oil industry and the coal industry, and the intermodal industry — we all know we’re competing for space on that rail.”
Wogsland points to last October as “ground zero” for the current backlog of agricultural products. Over the next several months, brutal winter weather, surging oil-by-rail business, and a lack of available train crews and locomotives colluded to keep North Dakota crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat from getting to market. Much of last year’s harvest is still sitting in silos and grain elevators, waiting for empty grain cars to arrive.
The two biggest railways in North Dakota — BNSF Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. — have said they do not prioritize oil shipments over grains (EnergyWire, March 20). But they are still struggling to clear a backlog of agricultural rail car orders. BNSF had just over 2,000 rail cars overdue as of Friday, while Canadian Pacific reported roughly 7,500 open grain order requests in North Dakota, according to data the two companies submitted to the Surface Transportation Board.
Meanwhile, nearly 650,000 barrels per day of crude moved by rail across the state in June, up from practically nothing a few years ago. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday that the first seven months of 2014 saw a 9 percent increase in crude oil and refined petroleum products moving by rail, compared to the same period last year. The bulk of those shipments originated in North Dakota’s booming Bakken Shale play.
“There’s a lot of product that wants to move on the rails,” said Stu Letcher, executive vice president of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, which represents the state’s biggest grain elevators. “I don’t know if I’d necessarily say [crude]’s gotten priority — the railroads will tell you that they’re behind on everything — but it’s hard to say. You do see a lot of oil trains moving.”
The STB, which oversees rail shipping in the United States, will convene a rare field hearing in Fargo, N.D., on Thursday so railroads, farmers and politicians can weigh in on the backlog. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) and Sens. John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D) are slated to attend.
North Dakota politicians have been critical of the backlog and its implications for agriculture, still the state’s largest industry. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) said last week that he “will not tolerate bullying tactics of any kind” from CP after the company adjusted its rail car ordering system, causing agricultural shippers to cancel thousands of orders.
Heitkamp was also skeptical of CP’s new system, which effectively shrank its reported order backlog by thousands of rail cars in a single stroke mid-August. “This ‘reset’ ignores the grain that has been piling up around North Dakota, as well as lost and foregone sales for farmers and elevators who are just trying to do their jobs,” she said in a letter to CP’s CEO, E. Hunter Harrison, on Thursday.
CP did not respond to requests for comment on Heitkamp’s letter. The company has said in filings with STB that it is “focused on moving as much grain as possible” and has added employees and locomotives to key locations.
BNSF announced earlier this year that it is plugging $5 billion into its nationwide track infrastructure in 2014, a record for the industry. The railroad expects $1 billion of that to go to the company’s Northern Corridor, an area that includes North Dakota.
“This is a case of rapid growth for several commodities using the same parts of BNSF’s network that hadn’t previously seen that kind of volume, especially along the Northern Corridor in states such as Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota,” BNSF spokeswoman Amy Casas said in an email. “While crude oil and the promise of U.S. energy independence has been a game-changer for North America, it still only represents about 4 percent of BNSF’s total traffic.”
This fall could spell another record crop for North Dakota, putting more pressure on BNSF’s and CP’s networks, according to Frayne Olson, a crop economist and marketing specialist at North Dakota State University. “Looking backward, you’d say conditions have improved fairly significantly,” he said. “But moving forward now, the concern is, have the core causes and issues that created the backlog in the first place been resolved? Is there enough improvement in the system to be able to handle a really big year?”
At Heitkamp’s request, Olson helped produce a “really rough” estimate of how much grain shipment delays have cost. He concluded in May that farmers missed out on $66 million in potential revenue due to the rail car backlog for agricultural products. If the backlogs continue, farmers stand to lose another $95 million, according to the estimate.
Letcher of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association is optimistic it won’t come to that. “Most of the [storage] locations are reporting improvement,” he said. “BNSF seems to have done a pretty good job of getting everyone caught up; CP’s a little bit farther behind.
“There’s grain out there to move — that’s the gist of it.”
2. Montana tribal officials cite oil-spurred crime spike
Josh Wood, Associated Press, Aug 28, 2014
Residents of Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation told Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) last week that they’ve reaped little from the Bakken Shale boom besides a sharp rise in crime, including human trafficking.
“Because of our proximity to the Bakken oil field … we are already seeing the negative effects of oil and gas development without any financial benefits,” said Rusty Stafne, chairman of the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes. “Washington has been quick to promote the exploitation of natural resources but slow to provide the necessary funding for the increased demand on our services and infrastructure,” he said.
Local law enforcement is stretched thin, frequently drawn to the oil patch rather than the reservation.
“With the Bakken, we’re down on the east end dealing with all of that and not able to give as many officers to the reservation as we used to,” said Tina Bets His Medicine, administrative assistant at the county sheriff’s office.
The grievances were aired at a listening session Tester held in Poplar on Thursday.
Several members of North Dakota’s Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation came to the hearing to voice concerns about their reservation, Fort Berthold. Teh reservation territory currently produces about 300,000 of North Dakota’s 1 million barrels of oil produced daily. The reservation has been flooded with workers, but also crime.
Jodi Lee Spotted Bear of Fort Berthold called the impact that Fort Peck has seen so far from the oil boom “a drop in the bucket” of what could come. “The level of violence and drugs has only gone up in our area – maybe you’ll be touched by it as well,” she said.
3. Protesters arrested after blocking BNSF oil train
Associated Press, published in Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), Sept 2, 2014
SEATTLE — Five people have been arrested after blocking railroad tracks at a BNSF Railway yard in Everett, Washington. Railroad spokesman Gus Melonas said two women and three men were taken to the Snohomish County Jail after refusing to leave a protest of train shipments of oil and coal and proposed export terminals in the Northwest. Melonas said he expects they will be charged with trespassing.
The protest by about a dozen demonstrators blocked some railroad tracks from 6 a.m. local time until about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday [Sept 2]. Melonas says three trains were delayed and others were diverted around the blocked tracks. No railroad property was damaged.
The group Rising Tide Seattle erected a tripod of poles over the tracks with a woman perched on top. Melonas says railroad police used a motorized lift known as a cherry picker to bring her down. Others were locked to the legs of the tripod.
A sign on the tripod said: “Cut Oil Trains Not Conductors,” an apparent reference to a deal negotiated by BNSF and a union to allow the railroad to run some freight trains with only an engineer on board.
“People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” spokeswoman Abby Brockway said in a statement. “Just one of these proposed terminals would process enough carbon to push us past the global warming tipping point — we won’t let that happen.”
BNSF police are commissioned officers with authority to issue citations or make arrests for trespassing or other criminal activity on railroad property, Melonas said.
Rising Tide Seattle says it’s an all-volunteer collective dedicated to taking direct action to confront the causes of climate change.
Trains carrying coal from northern Plains states as well as oil trains from the Bakken Fields of North Dakota have drawn increasing opposition from environmentalists because of plans for terminals in Washington, Oregon and along the Columbia River to export fossil fuels to Asia. More than 20 new or expanded coal, oil and gas terminals are proposed in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, said Rising Tide Seattle.
“There has not been one fatality on the BNSF Northern Tier from the Great Lakes, across the Plains, through the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest ports — not one fatality — as a result of a hazardous material release since 1981,” Melonas said.
4. Seattle activists mount tripod to stop exploding oil trains
By Rising Tide Seattle, Sept 2, 2014
Five residents of Seattle and Everett, WA, working with Rising Tide Seattle, have stopped work at a Burlington Northern Santa-Fe Rail Yard in Everett by erecting a tripod-structure on the outbound railroad tracks, directly in front of a mile-long oil train.
Seattle resident Abby Brockway – a small business owner, and mother – is suspended from the structure 18 feet above the tracks while four other residents are locked to the legs the tripod. The group is demanding an immediate halt to all shipments of fossil fuels through the Northwest and calling on Governor Inslee to reject permits for all new fossil fuel projects in Washington, including proposed coal and oil terminals.
“People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” said Brockway, “Just one of these proposed terminals would process enough carbon to push us past the global warming tipping point – we won’t let that happen.”
Today’s protest has shut down work at BNSF’s Delta Rail Yard in Everett. With the increase of fossil fuel transport in recent years the yard has become a crucial staging ground for coal trains headed to Canadian export terminals and oil trains bound for Washington refineries. An oil-train carrying explosive Bakken crude oil sat stalled while the protest continued.
“Exploding oil-trains running through my town are just a reminder of how out of control the fossil fuel industry really is,” said Jackie Minchew an Everett resident and retired educator locked to one of the tripod’s poles.
In a controversial move, Burlington Northern Santa-Fe recently announced a tentative deal with union leaders to reduce train crews from an engineer and conductor to a single engineer. The oil train that de-railed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013 was crewed by a single engineer. BNSF claims that oil-trains will continue to have two person crews, but critics point out that nothing in the proposed contract binds the company to that statement. Under the proposed deal Coal Trains would be operated by a single crew-member.
“BNSF is endangering workers, communities and our environment. They should keep the conductors and lose the oil trains,” said Brockway.
The surge in oil-train traffic is already impacting other commodities like passenger rail and agricultural shipments. Farmers from the Midwest to Washington State have faced what they call “unprecedented” delays in moving wheat and other products to West Coast ports. [Also, costly delays for farmers in Canada.] Amtrak service through fossil-fuel train corridors has also suffered significant disruption and officials have expressed concern that the problem will only get worse as more terminals come online.
“Railroads can be part of the solution, transporting crops and people or part of the problem with coal and oil. We should make that decision, not the fossil fuel companies,” Said Patrick Mazza, a longtime climate activist also locked to the tracks.
Mazza says he is taking this action for his daughter who will turn 18 tomorrow. “My last act as a father before my daughter reaches full adulthood tomorrow is to put my body on the line today,” Said Mazza, “It is up to us of the parental generation to do our absolute best to leave the least climate disrupted world we can, to put our bodies on the line to give our kids a fighting chance to deal with what we have left them.”
Development of extreme energy projects like the Alberta Tar Sands, Bakken Shale Oil and coal from the Powder River Basin, has fueled an explosion in proposed fossil fuel infrastructure in the Northwest. More than twenty new or expanded coal, oil and gas terminals are proposed between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. In both states and British Columbia these proposals have been met with fierce local resistance. Local communities have challenged both the safety of transporting coal, oil and volatile gas through their communities and the role of fossil fuel export in fueling catastrophic climate disruption. Proposed coal terminals in Longview and Bellingham or oil terminals in Vancouver and Gray’s Harbor, would lead to more carbon emissions than produced in the state of Washington each year.
“We could pass every climate initiative proposed by Governor Inslee, but if we let these terminals be built our future is on the chopping block,” said Liz Spoerri a Seattle middle school teacher also locked on the tracks.
While proposed coal and oil terminals have been controversial for years, climate activists in the Northwest have significantly intensified their tactics this summer. In Montana, residents sat on the tracks to block a coal train last April, and again on August 16th. In early July a woman locked herself to a 55-gallon barrel filled with concrete, blocking oil-trains at a Portland facility. In a similar action on July 28th three people blocked oil-trains at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes by locking themselves to concrete filled barrels. Most recently, three Seattle residents, including state legislative candidate Jess Spear, were arrested blocking oil and coal trains near the Seattle Waterfront.
“People in the Northwest are not going to allow this region to become a fossil fuel superhighway,” said Mike LaPoint, an Everett small business owner locked on the tracks. “This is just a sample of the resistance that will happen if any large fossil fuel project is permitted.”
Despite controversy, the number of fossil fuel trains on Washington’s rails continues to rise. While larger coal and oil terminals are undergoing lengthy environmental reviews, projects at Washington’s refineries have brought approximately two oil-trains per day to communities like Seattle and Everett. While the Department of Ecology conducts a study on the safety of oil-by-rail construction continues on a new terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Ferndale, and local officials are attempting to fast-track an oil-train terminal at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery, without environmental review. Each of these projects could add up to six oil-trains per week to the rails.
Expansions at the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility in Vancouver, Canada would increase the number of coal trains moving through Washington. Activists are demanding an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel terminals.
“Politicians play a blame game and talk about safety, but new terminals keep getting rubber stamped and built,” said LaPoint, “If elected officials won’t stop the fossil fuel takeover, we’ll have to do it for them.”
5. DOT rule seeks to prevent runaway oil trains
Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, September 10, 2014
The Department of Transportation published a proposed rule yesterday that would beef up requirements for securing trains hauling crude oil or ethanol.
The new regulations would largely codify existing rules in the Federal Railroad Administration’s emergency order on securing trains. That order was issued in August 2013, a month after a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, incinerating 47 people.
“While our existing securement regulations have been largely successful, it’s important in light of events over the past year that we take additional steps to mitigate risk here in the United States,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. “This rulemaking will solidify our existing securement regulations and provide additional safeguards against the rolling of unattended freight trains, especially those carrying hazardous materials.”
The rules prohibit trains carrying certain hazardous materials from parking on mainline tracks unless operators apply more brakes and take other precautions. The Lac-Mégantic disaster occurred in part because an engineer had failed to apply enough hand brakes, Canadian investigators found, and because the locomotive’s air brakes had been deactivated.
The FRA regulations would apply to trains carrying poisonous gases such as chlorine, as well as flammable liquids and explosives. The proposed rule comes on the heels of a broader, “comprehensive” DOT rulemaking package that covers everything from oil tank car design to operating procedures (Greenwire, July 23). The public comment period for the latest proposed rule ends Nov. 10.
A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads declined comment on the new proposal but noted that the regulation resulted from the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee process, which allows for industry participation.
6. Bakken crude comes under congressional scrutiny
Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, September 10, 2014
Is crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play more volatile than other types of oil? Transportation regulators say yes while oil producers and refiners say no, with both sides citing the same data to draw their conclusions.
Now the battle over Bakken crude’s chemistry has reached the halls of Congress, where lawmakers yesterday hoped to settle competing claims about the fuel’s dangers. Yet there were few clear-cut answers at a joint hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on Energy and Oversight under the title “Bakken Petroleum: The Substance of Energy Independence.”
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), chairwoman of the Energy Subcommittee, said she wanted to focus the hearing “very narrowly on the scientific characteristics of Bakken crude.”
But the conversation quickly drifted into the colloquial, with members sparring over the definition of “volatile” and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) dismissing part of one Department of Transportation bureaucrat’s testimony as “mumbo jumbo.”
Broun, chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee, later softened his remarks after criticism from his colleague Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), noting that he “didn’t want to cause any hard feelings.”
Broun wasn’t the only one to voice frustration over the respondents’ inability to offer, as he put it, “apples to apples” comparisons for Bakken crude, which has come under scrutiny following a spate of oil train derailments and fires.
At issue is the recent conclusion from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that the crude oil is “more volatile” than other varieties (EnergyWire, July 24). In its yearlong “Bakken blitz,” PHMSA has tested samples from several sites in North Dakota, yet the regulator also relied on data from a North Dakota Petroleum Council-commissioned study that reached the opposite conclusion.
At the hearing’s second panel, John Auers, executive vice president of the Turner, Mason & Co. consulting firm that prepared the NDPC study, took issue with PHMSA’s findings.
“Bakken is a very typical light crude — it’s not an unusual, particularly hazardous material,” Auers said. “To the public, when they hear from an official source that Bakken’s something different or more dangerous, it’s sort of like screaming ‘fire’ in an elevator or theater.”
PHMSA Deputy Administrator Timothy Butters told lawmakers that “the purpose of the report was not to compare different types of crude oil — the purpose of our study was to understand the physical and chemical characteristics of the product” because of the recent surge in domestic oil train traffic.
A riskier designation could have big economic consequences for the Bakken region. Some North Dakota companies are already exploring whether to “strip” more volatile substances out of Bakken crude before shipping it by rail. If regulators determine such steps are needed for safety’s sake, Bakken production growth could slow as “stabilizing” infrastructure comes online (EnergyWire, June 10).
Bakken crude’s light, sweet composition wasn’t closely analyzed until a 72-car train hauling oil from the shale play derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last summer, killing 47 people.
Since then, several groups, including PHMSA, the NDPC and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, have searched for chemical signs that Bakken oil may need special treatment before moving in tank cars that often are decades old.
The reports from the refining group AFPM and North Dakota’s oil industry both found that the crude is being properly classified and packaged as flammable liquid. But PHMSA found otherwise, and others have called for further study.
“That’s probably what these different studies highlight, is that there are things that we know, but there are some practical matters that we don’t understand yet because we haven’t had the necessity to do that research until now,” Chris Smith, principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Department of Energy, said at the hearing yesterday.
“It’s a systemic question, so the concern that we would have when you look at this is the fact that you’ve gone from 70,000 barrels per day [of crude] being moved by rail to over 700,000 barrels per day — that’s where the risk comes in.”
The fact that volatility, flammability and ignitability each carries its own scientific definition only further muddled the issue at the hearing.
Butters explained that “in the case of Bakken crude oil, it has a higher amount of dissolved gases — the flashpoint is lower, which means it has a higher propensity to ignite, and all of that contributes to increased flammability.”
Such responses drew ire from Republican representatives at yesterday’s joint hearing, who thought Butters and Smith were dodging straight answers with jargon.
Broun in particular was “frustrated” by the Obama administration’s decision not to send the technical experts he had originally requested.
But Maffei called on the members across the aisle to cut the witnesses some slack as they pressed for simple yes or no answers. “We on the Science Committee have a bit of a responsibility to at least respect the language that science uses,” Maffei said.
“When we’re asking these questions that get complex answers, we’re not on the campaign trail — we should allow the witnesses to give us that complex answer,” he added.
7. Dangers aside, railways reshape crude market
By Russell Gold and Chester Dawson, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 21, 2014
In May 2008, a locomotive with a grizzly bear painted on its side pulled into a railroad siding next to an abandoned grain elevator in the ghost town of Dore, N.D. The engine, property of the Yellowstone Valley Railroad, hitched up a couple of tank cars of crude from nearby oil wells and set off on a thousand-mile journey to Oklahoma.
Dore would never be the same—and neither would the U.S. energy industry. Until then, most oil pumped in North America moved around the continent in pipelines. Suddenly, and just as the oil industry began a period of unprecedented growth, there was an alternative: “crude by rail.”
Today, 1.6 million barrels of oil a day are riding the rails, close to 20% of the total pumped in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration, chugging across plains and over bridges, rumbling through cities and towns on their way to refineries on the coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico. If all the railcars loaded with crude on one day were hitched to a single locomotive, the resulting train would be about 29 miles long.
Initially conceived of as a stopgap measure until pipelines could be constructed, and plagued by high-profile safety problems, crude by rail has nevertheless become a permanent part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, experts say. Even pipeline companies have jumped into the rail business, building terminals to load and unload crude.
Behind the new industry are powerful economics. While it costs a bit more to ship petroleum on trains than through pipelines, railroads have the flexibility to deliver it to wherever it will fetch the highest prices. And capital expenses are far lower. Major railroads’ revenue for hauling crude has jumped from $25.8 million in 2008 to $2.15 billion in 2013, according to federal data.
The oil and rail industries have developed “a mutual dependence likely to continue for a long time,” said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research for Citigroup.
It is a similar story in Canada: the amount of crude moving by rail has quadrupled since 2012, and is forecast to more than triple between now and 2016.
The swift growth of crude by rail has been embraced by drillers in new oil fields in North Dakota, Texas and Colorado eager to move their product to the highest bidders. It was also welcomed, at least initially, by railroads looking for new customers after the recession sent traditional shipments tumbling.
But it has frightened communities across the country where first responders fear the fireballs that have erupted in the past year after some oil-train derailments. Federal regulators recently proposed new rules to require sturdier cars to carry oil, lower speed limits on some shipments and testing of the volatility of the crude transported by train.
Pipelines still carry most of the 8.5 million barrels of oil pumped every day in the U.S. And safety experts say pipelines have the best record of transporting crude without accident, despite a few big leaks like the one that left Mayflower, Ark., awash in heavy crude last year.
But pipelines, especially new pipelines, face a lot of problems these days. They draw protests from communities worried about spills and unhappy with the use of eminent domain to take rights of way from local landowners.
Activists opposed to the use of fossil fuels have focused on blocking pipelines in hopes of keeping oil in the ground. The Keystone XL pipeline, which requires federal approval because it crosses the U.S. border from Canada, has been seeking a permit since 2008 amid fierce political fighting, pro and con.
Railroads, by contrast, already own 140,000 miles of track in the U.S., according federal statistics, in a system that can send cargo from coast to coast, north to Canada and south to Mexico. By law, railroads don’t have the ability to turn down cargo, even if they want to, so all oil shippers had to do is to figure out how to get oil on and off the trains.
A big loading terminal might cost about $50 million—equal to the estimated cost of building just one mile of the Keystone pipeline.
With a terminal, “You can build it and have it under contract in 12 months and pay it off in five years,” said Steve Kean, president and chief operating officer of Kinder Morgan Inc., KMI -0.90%the operator of 80,000 miles of pipeline in North America and a growing network of rail terminals. The company has spent $290 million to date building up a crude-by-rail business.
To justify the massive investments needed for pipelines, their builders usually require drillers and refiners to sign long-term shipping contracts before they start laying pipe. That has been a problem for new oil fields without a track record, and for the mostly independent energy companies that developed those fields using hydraulic fracturing, said Adam Sieminski, who runs the federal government’s Energy Information Administration. Railroads don’t require such lengthy contracts.
The new way of moving crude was born out of frustration and need. In 2006, North Dakota faced what it called, in a report, a “crude oil transportation crisis.” Oil production was rising, but the few pipelines that served the state were full.
Enter Musket Corp., a privately held Houston company owned by the family that also owns Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. Musket bought inexpensive diesel from refineries along the Gulf Coast and moved it by rail to locations close to the Love’s service stations, developing and patenting a portable pump for loading and unloading the fuel.
In 2007, Musket tried using its pump to load a couple of tank cars with crude oil rather than diesel. When that worked, the company sent employees driving around North Dakota with binoculars to find an unused railroad siding to lease. They spotted Dore.
“Pretty soon, we knew it was going to be big,” said J.P. Fjeld-Hansen, a managing director of Musket. Trains could deliver Bakken crude to wherever it could fetch the highest prices, including Philadelphia, California, Louisiana or the giant Houston petrochemical complex.
The first loads from Dore were carried to Oklahoma, home to a giant oil-trading hub, by BNSF Railway Co., now owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRKB -0.36%It picked up the cars from Yellowstone Valley Railroad, a so-called short line railroad that now operates on just one mile of track—specializing in hauling freight from shippers’ yards to connections with the bigger railroads. The company that owns the railroad, Watco Companies Inc., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“Crude is a growing part of our business,” said Michael Treviño, a spokesman for BNSF, which now moves more oil than any other major North American railroad and spent $200 million last year on crude-by-rail projects.
The Dore project caught the attention of EOG Resources Inc., EOG -2.05%a big oil and gas company based in Houston. By the end of 2009, EOG had built an industrial-scale rail-loading terminal in Stanley, N.D., including a 1.3-mile loop of track where trains could be loaded with 60,000 barrels a day.
“We brought the project to fruition in an eight-month period,” Mark Papa, the former chairman of the company, said in a conference call with analysts in 2010. The company declined to comment.
The terminal cost $50 million, according to Wilson & Company Inc., an engineering firm involved in the project. Its chairman, Kenny Hancock, said his firm needed to work out kinks with this first-of-its-kind facility.
One problem was that when tank cars were loaded, hydrocarbon fumes would leak out and, since they were heavier than air, settle in the long open-ended loading shed. “The first seal we tried didn’t work and our explosive limit alarms went off,” he said. New seals and ventilation fans eventually solved the problem, the company said.
The relative ease and low cost of building loading and unloading terminals soon attracted a range of companies. Great Western Railroad, a Saskatchewan short line mostly owned by the province’s farmers in a cooperative agreement, hauled more carloads of crude last year than carloads of grain.
In 2011, Dakota Plains Holding Co. built a loading terminal, acquired a Utah tanning salon business that traded on the OTC Bulletin Board, renamed the business and issued shares to raise funds to expand.
By the end of 2013, there were 13 large rail loading facilities in the state, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. The largest, the Bakken Oil Express outside Dickinson, N.D., can handle 200,000 barrels a day.
There was also a surge in facilities for unloading oil and transferring it to refineries; such terminals are operating or planned in nearly two dozen states and Canadian provinces. Mile-long trains of oil tankers became familiar sights in cities across the country.
The crude-by-rail phenomenon has spread beyond the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana to the Permian Basin in Texas, the Niobrara in Colorado and to western Canada. In July, Global PartnersGLP -1.29%LP and Kansas City SouthernKSU -0.35%said they planned to build a rail terminal in the heart of the Gulf Coast petrochemical complex that can handle more than 100,000 barrels a day of crude, including Canadian oil sands.
“It is not a layup to build a pipeline to the Gulf Coast,” said Mark Romaine, chief operating officer of Global Partners, a Waltham, Mass., fuel logistics firm. “Look at the Keystone XL.”
But a year ago, those strings of black train cars took on an ominous look after an unattended oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. Several other derailments were followed by fireballs as Bakken crude burst into towering flames.
Those accidents have given railroads second thoughts about hauling crude, said consultant Anthony Hatch. While companies don’t break out the data, hauling crude is believed to be very profitable for railroads, so “they were excited” at first, he said. But now that business, which makes up only about 3.5% of rail shipments, according to federal data, has attracted unwelcome attention in communities that previously ignored the freight trains rumbling through town. And even some of the largest North American railroads are concerned they might not survive the costs of cleanup and lawsuits if a train exploded in a crowded city.
Regulators are imposing new rules that industry executives fear could slow the entire rail system, cut capacity and cause congestion. Federal regulators recently concluded that Bakken oil contains a high level of combustible compounds, known as light ends, as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed new rules on crude by rail will require companies to test crude before putting it into appropriately sturdy tank cars, among other measures being imposed on the little-regulated industry.
Harold Hamm, chairman and chief executive of Continental Resources Inc., a leading exploration and production company in the Bakken, said that the problem isn’t with the oil, but with railroad safety. “There would not be any problems with oil movements in America as long as Mr. Buffett keeps the trains on the track,” said Mr. Hamm, referring to Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, the owner of BNSF.
Mr. Treviño, the BNSF spokesman, said that “the facts are that 99.997% of rail industry shipments of hazardous materials reach their destination without a release caused by a train accident,” and that BNSF had a lower percentage of derailments last year than anytime in company history.
Two BNSF trains were involved in a derailment near Casselton, N.D., in 2013 that released more than 400,000 gallons of crude and set off a several-story tall explosion, leading to the evacuation of 1,400 people from Casselton.
The Association of American Railroads said it has increased inspections, decreased speeds and is using more technology to prevent derailments.
But Mr. Hamm said he thinks the situation will be short lived. “Rail is still a temporary thing,” he said. “If rail hadn’t been available, there would have been pipelines built.”
And some are in the works. Enbridge Inc. ENB.T -0.78%recently received approval form North Dakota regulators to start construction on a $2.6 billion, 225,000-barrel a day and 600-mile project called the Sandpiper pipeline, which would move oil from Tioga, N.D., to Wisconsin.
In Dore, Musket says it isn’t worried about business drying up with the addition of pipelines. The company’s terminal in the town can now handle 60,000 barrels a day and employs 50 people; the company has built another rail-loading facility in Dickinson, a two-hour drive to the south, and one in the Niobrara Shale in Colorado.
“I don’t think it’s either/or,” Mr. Fjeld-Hansen said. “I think rail and pipe will coexist for a long time.”
—Betsy Morris and David George-Cosh contributed to this article.
8. Canada mulls insurance fund to aid railways
Energy Wire, September 24, 2014 (Randall Palmer, Reuters, Sept. 22)
After vowing last fall to require shippers and railways to carry additional insurance, the Canadian federal government is considering establishing a pool insurance fund to scale back the burden. “It’s not likely to be the railways alone,” said a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
When a fiery oil-train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last year killed 47 people, the carrier, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, went through its $23 million government-mandated insurance, going bankrupt. Governments are now funding the rest of the cleanup, which could top $400 million.
The new policy might mimic a one-time fund for oil spills at sea that relied on an oil tanker shipment levy, taxing dangerous goods instead of forcing carriers of safe freights to shoulder the cost.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt’s press secretary, Jana Regimbal, said Raitt wants shippers to carry more coverage, and not just railways.
“The taxpayer should not have to fund the cost of damages after an incident,” Regimbal said
9. Ottawa quietly reduces Fair Rail grain fines
By Eric Atkins, Globe and Mail, Sept 25, 2014
While the federal government has publicly criticized Canada’s two major railroads for the slow pace of grain shipments last winter, officials have quietly slashed the fines the railways face for not moving a minimum amount of grain each week.
The changes came in the fine print of the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, which was introduced in March to address complaints by farmers and the grain industry about poor service from the two major railways, Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.
According to the law, which came into effect on April 1, railways would face “maximum penalties of $100,000 a day” for failing to handle 500,000 tonnes of grain each week for the next 90 days.
But when the law was extended in August, the fine was reduced to up to $100,000 “per violation,” which the government says means per week. The change was buried near the bottom of a lengthy “backgrounder” officials issued announcing the regulations, and went unnoticed by the grain industry, media and the Official Opposition.
“Lovely. The old switcheroo,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents Richardson International, Cargill and other major grain companies.
Mr. Sobkowich described the change as “disingenuous” and a “very small amount” for railways that generate billions of dollars in revenue a year. “We did not receive notice of the change, and if true, we are surprised and question the reason for the reduction,” said Mr. Sobkowich, adding grain companies sell wheat, canola and other grains weeks in advance, and need assurances the railways will provide adequate service.
The change came to light last week when Ottawa said it would fine CN for missing the minimum volumes for what the railway said was “several weeks.”
“The penalty is up to $100,000 per week,” Jana Régimbald, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, said last week.
Ms. Raitt’s staff initially told news website iPolitics the per-day fine was a typo in a press release, but later said the per-week penalty matches the reporting periods railways must adhere to.
NDP Member of Parliament Malcolm Allen, the party’s agriculture critic, said the government softened the law under fierce pressure from the railway executives, who “screamed almighty murder” over a per-day fine. “Every time push comes to shove, it’s the railroaders that win with the Department of Transport,” Mr. Allen said in a interview.
During Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms. Raitt would not say why the fine was reduced, and said Mr. Allen “may have missed it” when the legislation passed.
CN said it failed to meet the minimum volumes because there was not enough demand from shippers, and that any penalty is “unfounded.”
Ottawa has not said how much CN will be fined, but Mr. Allen believes it will be in the range of $300,000 to $500,000.
10. American Petroleum Institute issues inaugural crude-by-rail guidelines
Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter Published: Friday, September 26, 2014
The American Petroleum Institute unveiled its first set of “best practices” for shipping crude by rail yesterday, reflecting the oil and gas group’s keen interest in a business that barely existed five years ago.
The API’s guidelines are aimed at addressing concerns over the proper testing and packaging of crude from domestic oil patches such as North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play. A spate of oil train derailments and fires — including an explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013 — has brought crude-by-rail safety to the fore in the U.S. and Canada.
The new voluntary standards could provide a blueprint for the U.S. Department of Transportation as it considers a proposed rule that would overhaul crude-by-rail operating procedures, from testing to tank cars. The API noted in a statement yesterday that more than 100 of its technical publications have gone on to appear in federal regulations.
API President and CEO Jack Gerard said the latest guidelines resulted from “extensive work and collaboration” among oil and gas producers, freight rail companies, and DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
A DOT spokesman said the regulator “is still reviewing the final proposal, though it worked collaboratively with the API and believes this is a step in the right direction to advance the safe transportation of crude oil shipments.”
The industry-led publication arrived just three days after a Government Accountability Office report raised concerns about existing guidance for classifying oil (EnergyWire, Sept. 23). The federal watchdog said that “one of the terminal operators [we spoke to] told us that without clearer guidance, they are unsure whether they are performing the right tests and testing with sufficient frequency.”
Enforceable PHMSA rules require shippers to have tested crude “within the reasonable, recent past” before moving it by rail. While getting slightly more specific, the API publication still offers flexibility to decide how often to test crude, recommending shippers consider factors such as the historical consistency and the “stability of the petroleum crude oil to be loaded.”
PHMSA launched an unannounced sampling and inspection blitz last year to crack down on improper classification, issuing fines for three shippers in North Dakota’s Bakken region in February (EnergyWire, Feb. 5). PHMSA also found that crude from the Bakken is more volatile than other types, a claim that the oil and refining industries have fiercely contested. Nearly 670,000 barrels of oil left North Dakota every day by train this July, making the state the biggest crude-by-rail nexus in North America.
The API’s standards don’t single out crude from North Dakota’s Williston Basin and instead apply to all hazardous varieties of oil. The guidelines hew closely to existing rules on chemical tests, which require shippers to check crude’s boiling point and flash point. But the API also recommends checking each crude sample’s vapor pressure, a measure of volatility, in case it should be classified as a flammable gas. However, no sample of Bakken crude — in PHMSA’s investigations and recent industry-backed studies — has been shown to meet the definition of a gas rather than a flammable liquid.
“It’s a good document,” said Chris Tucker, who often works with crude-by-rail shippers as senior managing director of FTI Consulting. “I think it captures well the zeitgeist around these issues at the moment, which is a focus on more frequent testing, better standardization of method when it comes to conducting those tests, and more specificity in characterizing the cargo.”
In its proposed crude-by-rail rule, PHMSA said it expects to update classification and characterization standards to specify frequencies, testing methods and other criteria. An API spokesman said the trade group will formally weigh in on the rule before comments are due Tuesday.
11. Suncor ships first crude to Europe via St. Lawrence River in effort to expand markets
By Jeff Lewis, The Globe and Mail, September 24, 2014
[See also a story on this subject in French, at the bottom of this file.—RA]
Suncor Energy Inc. has shipped its first batch of Western Canadian crude to Europe, extending efforts by the energy industry to tap new markets beyond the U.S. The Calgary-based company exported a batch of heavy crude from a terminal in Sorel-Tracy, Que., near Montreal, on Sept. 21 after transporting the cargo from oil fields in Alberta, spokeswoman Sneh Seetal confirmed. She declined to discuss the destination or volume, but Bloomberg earlier reported the 700,000-barrel cargo was bound for Italy.
The terminal has 12 rail-loading racks and can receive ships with capacity of up to 350,000 barrels, owner Kildair Service Ltd. says on its website. Storage capacity at the site is 3.2 million barrels.
“This is the first shipment for Suncor of Western Canadian crude to Europe,” Ms. Seetal said Wednesday, noting the company has previously exported petroleum products as well as production from its offshore fields on Canada’s East Coast to the continent.
“It’s important that we establish customers outside of North America,” she added. “So although Canada and the U.S. remain our key markets, it just makes good sense that we would look at opportunities that provide us with flexibility.”
Canada’s oil industry is desperate to boost prices for landlocked production in Alberta, but efforts to reach higher-priced markets have so far been stymied by opposition to multibillion-dollar pipeline expansions.
Some companies have managed to reach international waters anyway. Cenovus Energy Inc. has sent western crude to China via existing capacity on Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Pacific-bound Trans Mountain pipeline. Imperial Oil Ltd. has sold production from its Kearl mine in northern Alberta in Malaysia. And earlier this year, Husky Energy Inc. delivered a one-million-barrel test sale to India, a move chief executive officer Asim Ghosh said could signal the start of a brisk trade if TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline to the Atlantic Coast goes ahead as planned.
Ms. Seetal declined to say what blend of crude the company sold or whether additional shipments were planned, citing proprietary reasons. The company has expanded its ability to receive rail shipments of inland crude at its 137,000 bpd Montreal refinery. It has also purchased discounted crude from Texas for the plant.
The Calgary-based oil industry has been frustrated by steep discounts on Western Canada Select, the key heavy oil blend, as fast-growing production in northern Alberta outpaces available pipeline capacity.
But the spread, or differential, has narrowed in recent months with smoother pipeline access and the sharp increase in crude-by-rail deliveries. On Wednesday, WCS for November delivery traded at $14.40 (U.S.) under U.S. benchmark West Texas intermediate oil, broker Net Energy Inc. said.
It costs between $16.30 and $22.60 per barrel to transport crude by rail from Alberta to Canada’s East Coast, according to industry figures.
Oil companies including Suncor are waiting on start-up of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 9 reversal to ship crude for refining in Quebec. The industry is also keen to boost shipments to the Atlantic Coast via Energy East.
Both pipelines have faced push-back from environmentalists and local groups, however. The Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday slapped TransCanada with an injunction, effectively halting exploratory drilling at Cacouna, Que., one of two export terminals planned for Energy East.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Line 9 reversal will boost shipments to the Atlantic Coast. In fact, the Line 9 shipments will go to Quebec.
12. Aberdeen council votes unanimously against crude-by-rail
By Erin Hart, The Daily World (Aberdeen, Washington State coast), Sept 25, 2014
By a unanimous vote of the 11 members present, the Aberdeen City Council Wednesday night passed a strongly worded resolution opposing plans to transport crude oil through Grays Harbor. The roll call vote came after more than an hour of passionate public and council testimony against the oil project. Council member Jeff Cook was absent from the meeting.
The resolution, proposed by council member Alan Richrod, has no force of law and Aberdeen does not have a direct role in granting or denying permit applications for crude oil transportation or storage facilities on Grays Harbor. It does send a message to the Port of Grays Harbor and the City of Hoquiam as well as state and federal authorities: the city opposes the plan to bring long oil trains into the community, store the oil at three Hoquiam tank farms and ship it out on tankers and barges.
It also urges the state Department of Transportation and Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board to conduct further studies and asks Gov. Jay Inslee to work with tribes to protect treaty and fishing rights.
There have been several explosive accidents in Canada and the U.S. as a result of oil train derailments, and the federal government is questioning the safety of the tanker cars used to ship oil. The resolution questions the safety of the rail lines running through the county, where there have been several derailments of grain cars in recent months.
All three oil storage projects would be on Port of Grays Harbor property. In an odd bit of timing, the vote on the resolution followed a slide-show presentation by the Port about its general operations and positive economic impacts. The presentation was scheduled back in July, Port spokesperson Kayla Dunlap said.
The oil terminal projects and shipping are planned by three companies — Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development.
Port Executive Director Gary Nelson, Port Commissioner Jack Thompson and Dunlap did not stay for public comment or the vote, though Nelson did answer questions from council and the audience about port business after the presentation. Most of them did not concern the resolution.
“It’s a free country, let them say their piece,” said Nelson on his way out. The vote is up to the council, said Thompson.
The third floor council meeting room was filled to the gills, mainly with supporters of the resolution. Some in the crowd were there to celebrate the retirement of Myra Rockwell, a 38-year veteran of the Police Department.
After a moving tribute to Rockwell by Police Chief Bob Torgerson, testimony by the public began in earnest. No one testified against the resolution.
Those testifying represented a cross section of Harbor residents. Fifteen people, young and older, men and women from Elma, rural Grays Harbor County, Ocean Shores, Hoquiam, Aberdeen and the Quinault Indian Nation spoke in favor.
With Mayor Bill Simpson keeping time with a chime sound on his smart phone, few speakers strayed far from the three minute limit.
Liz Ellis of Aberdeen worried about what oil spills would do to the Harbor. She also advocated for Aberdeen to be part of the solution for ecologically sustainable businesses.
Felix Capoeman of the Quinault Indian Nation said he wanted to keep digging for razor clams without digging through a “bunch of oil slicks.”
Robin Moore of Hoquiam brought comic relief by taking a verbal poke at Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, who recently criticized as interference a similar resolution from Port of Olympia officials. Calling Durney, “prickly,” she joked: “I don’t see him here so I guess he is for it.”
Larry Thevik of Ocean Shores, as vice president of the Dungeness Crab Fishing Association, warned against the risk to the substantial earnings an estimated 7,000 marine and fishing jobs bring to the Harbor. He also warned an accident could bring death not only to an industry but to marine and human life.
Jackie Farra, a member of the Ocean Shores City Council, worried that any spill would mean saying “goodbye to Ocean Shores proper.”
Diane Wolfe, also of Hoquiam, spoke of neighbors being concerned for neighbors. “We are all in this together,” she said.
Several speeches were greeted with applause as were the statements by the council members, particularly council member Kathi Hoder, who adamantly opposes crude-by-rail. “I’m against this oil thing … no way. NO WAY,” she said.
Though council member Tim Alstrom had some issues with some of the wording of the resolution, concerns about public safety and the proposed length of the trains led him to a yes vote. He also doubted the railway would make enough of an investment to fix the rails.
“I wish it was easy and simple but it’s not,” he said.
Councilman Doug Paling echoed Thevik’s earlier worry about how fast the crude could spread in the strong currents in the Harbor of up to 3.5 knots that roil the waters for as much as 112 days per year.
Council President Peter Schave wants to hear about what is being proposed to solve the problems, including the “lousy” location of a storage yard, that is too close to the city. The potential risk is too devastating without more answers, he said.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Denny Lawrence also reminded the council of previous concerns expressed in his committee, which have included the lack of specialized foam fire fighting trucks and equipment.
Jerry Mills and Jim Cook also spoke in favor of the resolution.
Richrod said he begged to differ with a statement by the Port’s Nelson that the railroad had assured him oil has not usurped the place of other cargoes. Richrod asserted both shippers of perishable freight and even coal suppliers “are griping” that oil has supplanted them in national train traffic.
He thanked the audience for supported the resolution. Clearly pleased with his freshman effort, he softly repeated a political battlecry: “ ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ ”
13. Trustee Probes Companies Tied to Lac-Mégantic Train Derailment
By Sara Randazzo, Wall St. Journal, Sept. 26, 2014
A bankruptcy trustee looking to recover money for those affected by a deadly 2013 train derailment has turned his attention to more than a dozen companies that may have played a role in the accident.
In filings made Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor, Maine, the trustee for train operator Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. said he is seeking information from energy companies Shell Oil Co., ConocoPhillips, InCorr Energy Group and Enserco Energy Inc. to help him determine whether he can pursue legal action against the companies.
Robert Keach, the trustee, said in an interview Friday that the four filings are “the tip of the iceberg” and that he is speaking with close to 20 companies that either leased tank cars to MM&A or produced the oil being transported. “We have a pretty wide-ranging discovery right now,” he said.
In July 2013, an MM&A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region derailed and triggered a series of explosions, leveling parts of a small Quebec town and killing 47 people. The accident has prompted regulators in the U.S. and Canada to call for stricter safety measures surrounding the transport of oil by rail.
In the recent filings, Mr. Keach said he is investigating whether Shell, ConocoPhillips, InCorr and Enserco were among the producers of the Bakken crude oil that the MM&A train was carrying. He also wants to ask them whether they were aware that Bakken crude oil is more volatile than other crude oil and whether they knew the train was “inadequate and unsafe” for transporting the oil.
ConocoPhillips declined to comment Friday. Representatives for Shell, InCorr and Enserco didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.
In January, Mr. Keach sued the owner of the crude oil its train was carrying, World Fuel Services Corp. and several other companies, accusing them of falsely identifying the crude oil as a low danger when in fact it was highly volatile and dangerous.
Had MM&A known of the true dangers of the crude oil, Mr. Keach contends in the lawsuit, the railway wouldn’t have let the train sit unattended on a slight descending grade, the point from which the train began its descent into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic early on July 6, 2013.
World Fuel Services has denied any wrongdoing and argued it shouldn’t be held responsible for an unforeseen accident.
MM&A sought the protection of U.S. and Canadian courts last year after being hit with an avalanche of personal-injury, wrongful-death and environmental claims following the derailment. The move gave the company breathing room from litigation while it works on a plan to pay victims and creditors in both countries.
In January, the bankruptcy court approved the sale of MM&A to an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC.
Now, Mr. Keach said, he is working on recovering as much money as possible to go into a joint settlement to benefit creditors in the U.S. and Canada. So far, the fund has a $30 million commitment from MM&A’s insurers at XL Insurance Co. Ltd., court filings show.
“The idea behind the settlement fund is to get many, many times that amount from the responsible parties,” Mr. Keach said.
14. Pétrole des sables bitumineux : un navire géant arrive à Sorel-Tracy [translation : Tar sands bitumen : A giant oil tanker docks at Sorel –Tracy (Montreal region)]
Reportage de Thomas Gerbet, Radio Canada, le dimanche 21 septembre 2014
Exclusif – C’est le début d’une révolution dans le transport du pétrole brut sur le fleuve Saint-Laurent. Un navire pétrolier géant a jeté l’ancre dimanche après-midi à Sorel-Tracy. Il vient récupérer un chargement de pétrole brut issu des sables bitumineux.
Le Minerva Gloria est l’un des plus gros navires à avoir circulé sur le Saint-Laurent entre Québec et Montréal : 250 mètres de long, 44 mètres de large (voir illustration ci-dessous). Il peut contenir des dizaines de milliers de tonnes de pétrole. Il y a un an encore, le fédéral interdisait des navires de plus de 32 mètres de large dans cette partie du fleuve.
« Je n’ai jamais vu ça », s’exclame Elias Harvey, qui vit à quelques pas du quai. De son salon, il peut voir, entendre, et même sentir le navire-citerne. Avec son appareil photo, il a voulu immortaliser ce moment.
Ce n’est pas le premier pétrolier à accoster devant chez lui, mais c’est le premier de cette taille, le premier qui va récupérer du pétrole des sables bitumineux et le premier qui va circuler sur le fleuve pour exporter son chargement de brut lourd. Jusqu’à présent, le pétrole brut venait surtout d’outre-mer et n’était destiné qu’à la consommation canadienne.
« Ça ne nous apporte rien, ça nous amène seulement le danger de polluer le fleuve », s’insurge le résident de Sorel-Tracy. « C’est un cadeau empoisonné, tout simplement ».
Depuis le mois de juillet, la pétrolière Suncor transporte son pétrole brut de l’ouest jusqu’aux réservoirs de Kildair, en traversant la Montérégie. Des citoyens inquiets s’y opposent. Monique Hains et le groupe Alerte Pétrole Rive-Sud manifestaient d’ailleurs dimanche à Boucherville : « Imaginez un déversement, c’est catastrophique. Le fleuve, c’est 3 millions de personnes qui s’approvisionnement en eau potable ».
Dans un courriel, Suncor se fait rassurante. Elle rappelle que ses navires ont tous des doubles coques et elle affirme qu’« aucune propriété du bitume dilué n’augmenterait le risque pour le transport par rapport au brut lourd conventionnel ».
Le Canada met en place des mesures de contrôle de la qualité des navires et d’inspections parmi les plus vigilantes à l’échelle internationale. Le professeur de l’Université de Rimouski, Emmanuel Guy, titulaire de la chaire de recherche en transport maritime, considère que le système actuel est « sérieux », mais qu’il devrait être revu si le nombre de pétroliers et leur taille sont en croissance.
« Le risque est proportionnel au niveau d’activité. S’il y a des transformations et des augmentations de volumes transportés, il est important de s’ajuster au fur et à mesure et pas après coup. » — Emmanuel Guy, professeur spécialisé en transport maritime
Le Minerva Gloria quittera le quai en début de semaine. Selon nos informations, il prendra la direction du golfe du Mexique, une raffinerie en Louisiane ou au Texas. De 20 à 30 navires par année viendront récupérer des chargements de Suncor à Sorel-Tracy.