U.S. scientists are warning that there are environmental risks, regulatory holes and serious unknowns regarding the shipment of Alberta oilsands products by pipeline, rail and tanker.
The findings are in a 153-page report from last September by the emergency response division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unit has expertise in preparing for, evaluating and responding to oil and chemical spills in coastal environments.
Enbridge, the company behind the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to the British Columbia coast, counters that most of the concerns raised in the report are out-of-date, overstated or being resolved.
The study examined the different ways to transport Alberta’s bitumen, a molasses-like crude oil, over U.S. land and water. Those included rail, the proposed Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, the Keystone XL line to Texas from Alberta, and Northern Gateway.
“Most oilsands products are transported to market via existing and proposed pipelines; however, a sharp increase in the use of rail and marine transport can be expected while new pipelines are constructed to match the increased production of oilsands products,” the report says.
It was written by six experts at the University of Washington and supervised by Prof. Robert Pavia of the university’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.
“While there are many arguments about the level of risk, no one believes the risk is zero,” Pavia told The Canadian Press, adding that he was speaking personally. “In my mind it’s not a question of whether a spill will occur, but how well-prepared we are for a spill once it does occur.”