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Quebec professor calls for inquiry into transportation of hazardous materials PDF Print E-mail
Earth News
Posted by Joan Russow
Sunday, 11 August 2013 17:14

By Christopher Curtis, The Gazette

 

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Quebec+professor+calls+inquiry+into+transportation+hazardous+materials/8770596/story.html#ixzz2bWpA4KGC

August 9, 2013

 

Quebec professor calls for inquiry into transportation of hazardous materials
 

While hundreds of trains carrying hazardous materials pass through urban centres every day, there’s no legislation that forces them to alert those municipalities, points out Jean-Paul Lacoursière, who teaches chemical engineering at Université de Sherbrooke.

Photograph by: Peter McCabe , The Gazette

MONTREAL — There’s more crude oil travelling on Canada’s railroads now than ever before.

In fact, there will be 26 times more crude shipped by rail this year than there was in 2009, according to the Railway Association of Canada. It’s something that went largely unnoticed among the general public before a freight train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic last month, killing 47 people

But now a Quebec engineering professor says it’s time the federal government launches a public inquiry into how hazardous materials are transported across Canada.

His statement comes just days after Suncor Energy Inc. announced that it plans to receive up to 15,000 barrels of Alberta oil per day at its Montreal refinery by year’s end. The oil will all be shipped into the east-end refinery by train.

“We’ve normalized bad practices in this country because, until recently, nothing terrible had happened,” said Jean-Paul Lacoursière, who teaches chemical engineering at Université de Sherbrooke. “Now that we’re seeing a dramatic rise in the transportation of oil by train, let’s actually get serious about investigating this issue.”

Since the fatal derailment, Transport Canada has added regulations that require two conductors be driving a train that carries hazardous materials. The new rules also state that freight trains should never be left unattended, as was the case in Lac-Mégantic.

Lacoursière and other observers say that simply isn’t enough.

For instance, he says, while hundreds of trains carrying hazardous materials pass through urban centres every day, there’s no legislation that forces them to alert those municipalities. Some railroad companies, like Canadian Pacific, advise cities of exactly what’s going to be passing through town on one of the company’s trains. But not all companies feel the need to spend extra time and money on a practice that’s in no way mandatory.

The reasoning behind not forcing rail operators to divulge what they’re hauling is that it reduces the risk of sabotage or terrorist attacks, according to Louise Bradette, department head at Montreal’s Centre de sécurité civile.

“There’s also the question of railroad inspections,” Lacoursière said. “What Lac-Mégantic brought to light is the fact that shipments of crude oil were allowed to roll on tracks that were flimsy and in disrepair. We authorized that.”

While Transport Canada hasn’t reduced the number of federal train inspectors since the Conservative government came to power in 2006, the department hasn’t hired new staff, either — despite a dramatic increase in rail traffic. It’s one of the issues the government has promised to look into in the aftermath of Lac-Mégantic, but Lacoursière says one of the most worrisome issues is the chemical composition of crude itself.

His concern is echoed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which issued a warning to American oil lobbyists in July that it will be re-evaluating the way crude oil is classified as a dangerous good, the way it is packed into tankers and how it’s shipped across the country.

The warning came in a memo drafted by the USDT, which states that crude is often blended with other more volatile chemicals, it is often overloaded into tankers and it corrodes the inside of the tankers that carry it. The memo recommends the mixture of crude be analyzed in a government lab before it can be authorized for rail shipment.

In the city of Côte St-Luc, which houses the largest rail yard in Eastern Canada, there’s a concern about exactly what’s on the tracks. Mayor Anthony Housefather says his town has a great relationship with Canadian Pacific, which operates the rail yard, but he’d also like to see more federal regulation.

“CP is a responsible company, they have provided us with comprehensive information about what’s on their trains even though they’re not obliged to,” Housefather said. “There’s no reason for panic, but the federal government does have a larger role to play. There’s numerous improvements to be made in terms of inspections, mandatory reports and the kinds of cars that are allowed to carry oil.”

In an email to The Gazette, Transport Canada spokesperson Kelly James stressed how infrequent rail accidents are in this country.

“There are over 30 million shipments of dangerous goods every year in Canada with 99.999 per cent of them reaching their destinations without incident,” James said.

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