While most normal people worry that Bill C-69 will make it nearly impossible to get resource projects approved in Canada, and may well discourage anyone from trying, Elizabeth May and the Greens demand that we continue to ship oil by rail. It’s a classic case of losing sight of the goal and becoming fixated on the method. The original idea was to kill off oil by killing off pipelines; now it’s to kill the pipelines and ship oil by rail. Is the theory that pipelines are heating the Earth by friction or something?
The specific claim is that “the only way to transport bitumen, which is a solid, through a pipeline is mixing it with a toxic diluent. When that mixture spills it’s impossible to clean up. The safest way to transport bitumen is as a solid by rail.” As one might fear, this statement is misleading in many ways.
First, it doesn’t address all the other oil stranded in Alberta by lack of pipelines; we don’t know what Ms. May thinks the train that caused the disastrous Lac Mégantic fire was carrying.
Second, it overlooks that some bitumen produced in the oil sands is upgraded on site and flows through pipelines as synthetic crude oil. (This information is admittedly available only to people with Internet access who know what Wikipedia is but as Ms. May’s party makes a big hoo-hah about youth perhaps she can find a staffer with Google installed on their computer.)
Third, the unscientific bogeyman about “a toxic diluent” overlooks that oil itself is not good to eat. The diluents are other hydrocarbon products.
Fourth, and perhaps most embarrassingly, it overlooks that to be transported by rail bitumen is… diluted, the so-called “railbit”. (Otherwise it has to be in specially heated cars, further increasing the carbon footprint of this transport method.) Indeed, the industry is all excited about a promising new technology that would let them move solid bitumen by rail, as “pucks” coated with polymer that reduces their tendency to dissolve or burn and, moreover, makes them float, facilitating cleanup should a spill occur including, proponents hope, from a tanker.
Fifth, Bill C-69 doesn’t just threaten pipelines. It risks making all major energy investments in Canada impossible, condemning us to slide backward into economic stagnation while other nations move forward with bold imagination.
Because, sixth, Ms. May and her ilk talk a great deal about innovation. But unless it’s hallucinating reliable, efficient solar and wind energy they don’t actually seem to believe in it. Canadians are great at innovating ways to produce and transport energy safely and the people who work in the energy industry care a great deal about doing so.