Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Churchill awaits Harper

  • Print

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Whitehorse this week underlining his intense interest in Northern Canada and its economic progress. The Omnitrax transport company, meanwhile, was organizing a test run to haul tank cars of crude oil up the Bay Line to Churchill. Once oil is loaded into ships at Churchill, it is available to the markets of the world.

Mr. Harper can contribute substantially to northern development by focusing his government's attention on transport through Churchill. A winter road is needed to link Churchill to Rankin Inlet and the Bay Line may prove to be a good oil export route for Western Canada.

The Manitoba government likes the road to Rankin but it has grave doubts about shipping oil on the Bay Line. In light of the July 5 oil spill and catastrophic fire at Lac M©gantic, Que., people living along the Bay Line are likely to be apprehensive also. The railbed across the half-frozen muskeg is notoriously unstable and uneven. Churchill has made its name as a place to watch migrating polar bears and frolicking beluga whales, but spilled oil near the port could harm the wildlife and ruin the tourist trade.

So this is a delicate matter. The federal transport authorities that have licensed the oil shipment have no more experience in the matter than the railway. Omnitrax is doing the responsible thing by conducting a test run and discussing its plan at public meetings in the affected communities. But difficult calculations must then be made to evaluate the risks and the benefits, design the facilities and the procedures and decide what to do next. The company should not be asked to do that by itself.

The development of Churchill as an oil-export terminal is a matter of national importance, to give western Canadian oil producers a variety of routes to market. It is important for inventing the techniques of shipping large volumes of oil safely across the northern muskeg and loading it safely into ocean-going ships. Further down the line, the experience with rail shipment may show an oil pipeline to Churchill would be supported by shippers.

Mr. Harper should not stand back and wait for the industry and its critics to form their battle lines and duke it out. He tried that approach with the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline across the mountains to Kitimat, and it has not worked well. He should take an active interest in the Omnitrax project and show everybody involved he recognizes both the opportunity and the difficulties.

The federal government has regulatory power over railroads. It has scientific research agencies. Many of its operating departments have long experience working in the North. Mr. Harper should welcome the enterprising spirit Omnitrax is showing and he should bring the powers and skills of the federal government to bear on the difficult problems the project raises.

Once Omnitrax starts shipping oil through Churchill, a certain amount of spillage is inevitable. Small spills that might be tolerable in Southern Canada may last longer and do more damage in the colder climate of Churchill. The transport and environment authorities need to keep a close eye on this work. They have to ensure spills are properly contained, efficient and cost-effective measures are taken to prevent them and the work is allowed to proceed in a sustainable manner.

The Bay Line has never quite fulfilled its promise as Western Canada's ocean port because it is difficult to use and its shipping season is short. The retreat of Arctic ice and the glut of crude oil in Alberta and Saskatchewan may mark the dawning of a new day for Churchill and its rail line. Omnitrax is taking a sensible first step in that direction.

The government is already aware of the rationale for a winter road to Rankin Inlet. A commitment of funds to choose a route would advance that project. A federal role in the search for technical solutions to oil transport through Churchill would boost public confidence in the Omnitrax project.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 A8

Fact Check

Fact Check

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.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Mayor Bowman reacts to Caspian investigation

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • horse in sunset - marc gallant

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google