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B.C. seeks lessons from Quebec disaster

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak - Black Press
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak
— image credit: Black Press

VICTORIA – The B.C. government will incorporate lessons from the Lac Megantic rail disaster in its own effort to develop "world class" land-based oil spill protection, Environment Minister Mary Polak says.

Polak said Monday that while rail traffic is regulated by the federal government, the province's target for proposed oil pipeline safety have led to discussion with Ottawa and railway operators.

The runaway train that destroyed part of Lac Megantic, Quebec in a huge explosion and fire Saturday night was carrying light crude from shale oil deposits in North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick. The oil industry across North America has increasingly looked to rail and barge transportation of crude as pipeline expansion has fallen behind increasing production.

"Whenever we see an event like this, our main concern is to learn from it and do everything we can to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again," Polak said. "So we will be watching the federal investigation very closely."

Polak said there is no simple answer to the question of whether pipelines are safer than rail for transporting oil.

"There is differing opinion on either side, and much depends on what kind of topography you're dealing with in a particular location," she said.

Transport Canada increased restrictions on rail operations after two serious accidents in recent years. Train lengths were restricted on CN's B.C. operations near Prince George after an August 2006 collision between two trains with a fire involving gasoline and lumber cars.

In 2005 a CN derailment in the Cheakamus Canyon resulted in a tank car loaded with caustic soda spilling in the river, killing thousands of fish.

In both incidents, the available locomotive and braking power were a key focus for investigators.

 

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