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Condensate rail cars on the CN track at Terrace at the end of the train when a derailment occurred at the Skeena River crossing.
COMMENTARY · 31st July 2012
Merv Ritchie
Originally published May 8, 2011. Redated to July 31, 2012 in another effort to bring awareness to the issues.

Fighting development and progress is a fool’s game. The world will advance and progress despite all the protests and conflict. The selling and shipping of the Tar Sands crude oil is no different, it will happen. The only impact the citizens of Canada can hope to have on the development is on the method of production, sales and shipping.

The first choice should be refining the crude bitumen ourselves right next to the Tar Sands and then selling the refined product by containers. Just like all other raw resource products the financial losses of selling it then buying back the finished or refined product is not in the best interests of any nation, in this case Canada.

If we cannot convince or demand the oil companies build a refinery, then we should only sell and ship the raw crude by rail; in the same manner the condensate is delivered to Alberta from the Northwest Ports in BC, but with one small responsible change.

The rail cars currently used to deliver condensate (and available to ship crude) should be modified so that they are detachable from the wheels and made stackable like Lego blocks. This modification should completely envelope the container in a second skin (similar to a double hulled tanker). This would assist in preventing spillage during an inevitable derailment. The tanker containers would be stacked aboard a vessel just like the Costco containers are stacked at the Port of Prince Rupert today. The entire infrastructure is already in place. It is all just very under utilized. There is plenty of room for expansion. The Port still has more phases to open.

Then the condensate can come in on the same containers, the crude goes out in, fully utilizing these containers, the Port and the rail line. CN has stated they have the rail capacity today to ship ten times the quantity of crude the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is presently designed to handle. To pump the bitumen through the pipeline they would need to import more condensate to thin it out so the raw thick product will flow through the pipe.

Shipping in containers by rail would ultimately open up Canada's product to even more markets. Currently the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline will be fully subscribed by those who pay to have it built. No other future market becomes available or can get in on the supply unless they buy from the third party who subscribed to the capacity.

If it was sold it by the container (rail tanker), no one purchaser would have to commit to a long term purchase subscription and any purchaser could then limit or expand their purchases to meet their requirements.

Finally, the best part of this concept is; should the tanker run aground or split open in high seas (another inevitable occurrence), all the crude is contained within secured containers. The clean up would involve sending out barges with a crane to pick up the floating, (or sunk) containers. Between the production facilities (Tar Sands etc) and the final destination (China or USA refineries) the petroleum product is never exposed to any environment. No tank farms, no pumping stations, no opportunity for spillage, big or small.

The Port of Prince Rupert can handle the largest container ships in the world. In fact a new extra large container vessel was just completed making its first call in Prince Rupert in April, 2011.

A better fight, a better use of energy by the various environmental and protest groups is not objecting to the production and shipment of oil, bitumen or refined. Standing firm and resolved in complete and absolute rejection of any and all shipping of Canada’s Tar Sands oil will attract an equal and opposite rejection and forceful implementation of the plan already in place.

Like any negotiation, union/labour, business/government, contractor/homeowner, all parties must respect each other and understand the base objective, offering alternative methods so each can find a measure of success.

Offering a responsible plan that allows the proponent to achieve their goals while respecting and protecting the opponent’s goals and then sitting down to work out the details is the only true method of resolving any dispute. Currently, in regards to Enbridge, this has not happened.

Double skinning the rail tankers and incorporating them as detachable and stackable units could begin today. By years end all of the condensate could be rolling on CN’s tracks in these newly modified containers and new container vessels secured for cross oceanic cargo. The customers and suppliers, wherever they are in the globe, could begin modifying their operations to meet this new standard. The condensate will still be required to be imported as it is currently added to the raw bitumen for shipping in the North American pipelines already in use today.

As the years progress and the export sales increase, CN could begin reinforcing the rail bed and double tracking the line between the Princes’; George and Rupert.

While the environmentalists and social activists stomp their feet and yell, Hell No, the Canadian Government develops plans to infiltrate and discredit the entire lot. The next move will be military style protection for the contractors building the pipeline and facilities just as has been done all across the globe. The Canadian Military conducted an exercise last year with the local rangers utilizing local choppers and boats in the mountains and Douglas Channel to coordinate methods of communication and work style. Fighting this is not an option. The only option is offering an option.


Oil Tankers - The best in the world are stress rated for one or two North Pacific Voyages. MORE HERE

Military Exercise in 2010 during the Joint Review Panel Hearings on Enbridge at Kitimat. MORE HERE and HERE.

See the April 2009 derailment report on the Terrace Daily HERE.

The Everything Enbridge Section can be found by CLICKING HERE.
A derailment will happen.  Currently petroleum products are already shipped by rail and are unprotected should a major derailment occur involving these cars.
A derailment will happen. Currently petroleum products are already shipped by rail and are unprotected should a major derailment occur involving these cars.
Second thought on Thanks
Comment by Dave B on 31st July 2012
Of course if it were to either be refined in Canada or shipped by rail Enbridge would be out of the money loop - the Chinese backers could still make theirs if they built and owned the tank cars or used the money to build a refinery (Canadian labour costs to run it aside).
Comment by Dave B on 31st July 2012
Thanks for re-posting your idea/concept.
I liked it when you first put it out and I like it even more today.
Big business will have their way - I agree with you -offer viable alternatives. too bad CN and the Port of Prince Rupert aren't on board.
I hope your idea gains traction in the very very near future!
Raw bitumen oil spills are easier to clean
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 31st July 2012
Raw bitumen oil spills are easier to clean

The thick heavy, undiluted raw bitumen does not flow or evaporate. It sits virtually exactly where it is, like a blob of molasses. If a rail car broke open in a derailment the product would not release quickly like refined diesel, gasoline or other products. All of it could be recovered as long as it was cold and undiluted.

In an ocean spill, such as would happen if we allow the product to be shipped in the standard VLCC’s a spillage would be disastrous as the product would sink quickly to the ocean floor and spoil the shoreline for decades, if not centuries.

A punctured rail car would not spurt oil like a high pressure pipeline filled with heated product thinned with highly toxic nerve gas referred to as diluents.

Cold pure bitumen does not escape violently in a spill. Contain it in a rail car; ship it in a rail car, from the source to the destination. Sealed and secure from the Athabasca oil fields to the Dalien, China refinery. Let them heat the tank and remove the product. Cold, even if a tank was punctured, it wouldn’t run out very quickly, if it did at all, unless it was diluted.
just a thought
Comment by Petri Nystrom on 31st July 2012
The last enbridge spill was approximately 1000 barrels. Each railcar would approximately 1000 barrels.

Ed Note: Rail Car - 10ft x 54ft (common size) holds 30,000 gallons or just over 714 barrels.
Volume and velocity of rail vs pipeline
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 30th July 2012
Pipelines average velocity of 10 ft per sec, or 6 miles per hour. Rail cars travel at over 40 miles per hour on average. Pipeline is 3 ft in diameter. Rail car is 9 ft in dia.

I am sure anyone with a bit of time and an understanding of engineering can see volume efficiency in rail over pipe.

Maybe the rail bed could be redesigned with guide buttresses to keep the cars on the tracks. There must be someone with brains out there. We are landing a new probe on Mars this coming week, we can most certainly figure out a way of shipping oil without spilling it.

Now if we could only find a way of incorporating this into ocean tankers where the rail cars remain sealed.

Find solutions, not problems with suggestions.
CN and Economics
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 30th July 2012
As we approach the discussion of almost any topic the starting point should be the common goal of finding a solution. Most however start with how to tell everyone someone elses idea is wrong or won't work.

Once again, that is a fools game.

CN has the rail capacity to ship today, ten times the volume of oild the Enbridge 36" diameter pipeline will carry.

As for economics, this has been discussed in volumous writing on this website. As Oil went from $40/brl to $110/brl and then down again, who in their right mind believes the economics has anything to do with the production or shipping?

We have the opportunity to do things differently. The only question/discussion should be how we can find a way to do it responsibly. Children attack ideas without offering alternatives. not adults.

Understanding issues is really very important.

The problem and solution for all ocean going tankers

It's not good enough to just say, I'm against Enbridge
Chris from far away
Comment by Kelly Derksen on 30th July 2012
I ask again, how many rail cars would be needed to hit the rails on a daily basis to make it economically feasible? Sure double walled tanks are better than single walled, but believe me they have leaked before as well. The equipment is only as good as the people making / installing, and ultimately in control of them. This is a true pie in the sky idea, and would never fly on an economic level, doesn't make fiscal sense. Are there other options out there? I have been following the Enbridge situation closely, and yes the amount of spills that are occurring are alarming for sure, but until someone comes up with an economically feasible option for shipping oil, this is where it's going, like it or not. I have heard the argument that the heavy oil should be refined in our own country, this I agree with, but unless refineries are constructed in the far north (in my opinion a bad idea with the harshest elements in winter) , we still have a pipeline required to get it to the refinery, where ever it would be constructed. Would there be the same amount of opposition if they were constructed in Kitimat or Terrace? Probably, because that is human nature, damned if you do, damned if you don't. You can't please everyone all the time, you can't even please some people most of the time, everyone has different ideas and goals, where do we go from here ??
enbridge,,,, the movie
Comment by chris from away on 30th July 2012
all good
containewrizing product so that spills are minimized is good
we don't need a leaking pipe that doesn't get detected for days on end,,, enbridge is a pipe company with a growing bad reputation for maintenence of their existing vast network.
yup, the new proposed line would bestate of the art, but nothinng is foolproof
yup, we all drive or travel somehow using oil products, or our groceries come from away, or (if you are a puritan that only rides your horse) then your extra hay travels down the highway
i live in montreal now, and seeing the masses travelling, all day, every day makes me wonder what the hell we are doiing

i guess that if alberta oil goes on trains instead of enbridges pipes, then there would be a whole bunch of first nations who would not get coin for a pipeline... catch 22
but again, if cn and the port of prince rupert are to be the benefactors of train system then i would require cn to build overpasses and vastly improve their present operations.... i have personal knowledge that there are very few locations along the skeena river to actually deploy spill containment booms so it is imperative that cn does more to upgrade its delivery systems before oil moves on the rails
same for prince rupert port's system of spill response plan.... a bunch of people with boats to throw out some absorbent booms and tampon-looking things
really.... and they get paid big bucks
oh well, as said before, i'm in montreal now.... they have screwed up the rivers here for decades.... don't let it happen to my friend, the skeena.
How many rail cars would needed
Comment by Kelly Derksen on 30th July 2012
Now, ill admit I am not an expert, but seriously?? How many rail cars would have to be used in order to make this cost effective? We would have trains miles long, again not a great substitute. Train derailments are in most case human error, in one way or another, so by exposing them to the increased demand and strain on workers, what could be the outcome.... MORE SPILLS!! I really don't see how this method would work, but hey that's just me!
Hope for the Hopeless
Comment by terry on 30th July 2012
I have been endlessly sharing this excellent alternative, it was a good idea to repost it.