Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 08/30/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 08/30/2013 2:53 PM | Updates
A national environmental group is ramping up its efforts to block a controversial plan to ship crude oil through the northern Manitoba Port of Churchill.
The Wilderness Committee plans to hold town hall meetings in Winnipeg, Thompson and Churchill over the next five weeks to let Manitobans hear from experts why it's too risky to let Omnitrax Canada haul oil by rail to Churchill and then ship it out in tankers through Hudson Bay.
It also has a letter-writing campaign underway urging concerned citizens to send a message to the Manitoba government expressing their opposition to the plan.
The committee argues Omnitrax's rail line passes through remote areas and sensitive wildlife habitat, and an oil spill would be disastrous and difficult to clean up. Spokesman Eric Reder said it has received more than 220 responses since it sent an email last Thursday to its members informing them of the letter-writing campaign, which is being run through its website: www.wildernesscommittee.org/manitoba.
"These are very high numbers for any letter-writing campaign we've run," he said. "We usually don't get more than a few hundred responses... after several weeks."
Winnipeg-based Omnitrax said earlier this month it hopes to ship about 12.5 million litres of light sweet crude oil per year as part of its ongoing efforts to boost the volume of goods passing through the port and to ensure its long-term viability.
They said Omnitrax is talking to several Alberta oil companies that might be interested in using the port to ship oil to refineries in Atlantic Canada and Europe. It hopes to do a test run this October involving a 1.25-million-litre tanker ship.
Omnitrax spokesman Mike Ogborn said this week those talks are continuing.
A spokeswoman for Canada's largest publicly traded oil company -- Suncor Energy Inc. -- said Tuesday it has no plans to ship oil through Churchill.
"It's just not a fit for us at this time," she said. But for competitive reasons, she declined to say if Suncor had discussed the option with Omnitrax.
The Omnitrax proposal has drawn mixed reactions from northern Manitoba residents, businesses and municipal officials. Churchill resident and tour-company worker Alex deVries-Magnifico and hotel operator Dick Hunter are vehemently opposed to the plan because of concerns about the risk of an oil spill and the damage that would do to the environment and to Churchill's tourism industry.
DeVries-Magnifico said all but two or three of the approximately 70 people who attended an Aug. 13 meeting in Churchill were opposed to the plan.
Hunter, who owns the Iceberg Inn in Churchill, also said a spill in the port would contaminate all of Hudson Bay because of the way the water circulates around the bay.
"We definitely have some very big concerns," the former volunteer fire chief added.
However, Churchill Mayor Mike Spence has expressed cautious support for the plan, saying Omnitrax has been safely handling gasoline and diesel-fuel shipments for more than a decade.
While Spence is keen to find new products to diversify the Port of Churchill's business -- which currently relies mainly on grain shipping -- he would want to ensure the Omnitrax plan poses no risk to the environment and meets all regulatory requirements for the safe handling of petroleum products, he said.
The Pas Mayor Al McLaughlan and Thompson city councillor Penny Byers also said after Omnitrax officials explained the precautions it would be taking, including having an emergency response unit and spill-containment equipment on every oil train, most people in their communities seemed to be in favour of the plan.
"After listening to everything that was said... this is without a doubt a good-news story for Thompson and the region," Byers said, adding it could lead to new jobs and to additional sales for local suppliers.
Ogborn said Omnitrax's existing procedures for transporting petroleum products already meet or exceed Transport Canada safety standards.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2013 A6
Updated on Friday, August 30, 2013 at 2:53 PM CDT: Clarified Churchill mayor's statement.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Sanders takes aim at BIZ, Bowman
Bones found on riverbank not human, police confirm
Harper will not attend opening of CMHR
Tory MLAs challenge province on emergency Lake St. Martin channel
Owner of poisoned bees convinced it was "targeted attack"
Suspected drunk driver involved in crash facing charges
Dauphin hotel evacuated due to early morning fire
Documents a vital part of our history
Morden mosasaur world's largest
Plenty of good weather for golf, yard work ahead
Looking to the Red for answers, peace
Knife drawn after big crash
Vogiatzakis fighting for political life
If New York can do it, so can we: Bowman
Chamber rues lack of vision for city
Signless Steeves breaks with tradition
No payback for wrongful accusation
Human rights museum still a work in progress
Never-ending construction season
Province offers $100,000 to help fight Ebola, help victims' families
A great friend to Ukraine
Members rally to preserve centre
Fielding gets nod for provincial run
Trustee spills beans on bus drivers' raise