9/9/2013 4:07:02 PM

Oil Shipments Through Churchill

We recently became aware of a proposal to transport crude oil to Churchill on the Hudson Bay Railway and to ship that oil through the Port of Churchill to refineries on the East Coast of Canada and in Europe. Currently, the oil used by Churchill residents arrives by rail and small quantities of oil are shipped from the port to Nunavut. But the new plan would greatly the increase the amount of crude oil moving through the polar bear capital of the world, an environmentally sensitive area.

At Polar Bears International, we recognize that vessel transport is the only practical way to move petroleum products among international destinations. We also, in general, support the movement of goods by rail where possible. Trains are the most energy-efficient means of overland freight transport (and therefore have the lowest carbon footprint). From the standpoint of the welfare of polar bears, one of our biggest concerns about this proposal is the demand for that oil. If polar bears are to survive as a species, we need to dramatically reduce our use, and therefore the transport, of all fossil fuels. On the surface, at least, expanded shipping and the movement of fossil fuels through previously unused ports are signals society is not yet moving to reduced reliance on hydrocarbons. As our executive director, Krista Wright, says, "Why aren't we talking about renewable energy instead?"

In the more proximate timeframe, oil shipments to and through Churchill could pose direct and immediate risks to the polar bears of Hudson Bay. If proper safeguards and response capabilities are not in place, polar bears and other Manitoba wildlife could be affected by spills, bilge discharge, and other contaminants releases. Therefore, the prospect of dramatic increases in quantities of petroleum products passing through Churchill en route to international destinations indeed may be cause for concern.   

At PBI, we are trying to gather information that would allow us to understand the proposed action, its associated risks, alternatives, and the degree to which management authorities at the Manitoba or Canadian federal level are involved. It's especially important to know whether an environmental impact study has been done or if clean-up plans are in place. Although some have suggested that PBI should make a statement or take a position on this proposal, it would be imprudent to do so without a thorough understanding of the situation. Currently we are working toward that understanding. 

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