Stranded grain blame misplaced

Curious bit of logic from Warren Kinsella (Pipeline Opponents Go Against Grain — column, July 26). He blames anti-pipeline environmentalists for the backlog of Canadian prairie wheat waiting for transport to market. He states that limited rail capacity due to an increase in oil transport by train, in the absence of pipelines, is the reason.

Citing the Lac Megantic tragedy as a reason to support new tarsands expansion, and the pipelines that would carry its oil to market, Kinsella states: “A pipeline like Keystone would move enough oil, in a single day, to avoid having to make use of 4,200 railway cars to move the same amount. Lac Megantic provides a compelling argument for finally doing so.”

He fails to mention that the Lac Megantic explosion had nothing to do with the tarsands. That particular petroleum product was conventional oil from the Bakken Field in Southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Projections are for an increase of Bakken oil rail traffic from 500 carloads in 2010 to 130,000 carloads annually by 2014, a risk that no tarsands pipeline is going to abate. (By the way, currently there is no easy way to rail the bulk of any expanded tarsands production, as the cost of building a railroad bridge across the Athabaska River is prohibitive.)

The failure to transport prairie grain is rather the result of short-sighted federal government policy. If our government had its values straight, it would legislate a priority on transporting grain. That would entail caboosing a proposed tripling of CO2-intensive tarsands production as well as transport of Bakken oil. That would kill two birds with one stone. It would reward our farmers by helping them market more food to a world which increasingly needs it, and help honour our commitment to reduce our own Canadian greenhouse gas contributions.

The International Panel on Climate Change states unequivocally that such climatic events as Canadian prairie floods and Southwestern U.S. droughts are “the new normal.” We can expect them every year — and that’s with only a 1.0 degree rise in global temperature. The scientific consensus is that we have only 15 years to begin to downslope our dependence on fossil fuels, and that 80 per cent of existing fossil reserves must stay in the ground. That includes tarsands oil.

To lay blame for stranded grain on environmentally aware people who want our government to address the immediate threat of global warming and help ensure a tolerable existence for our grandkids is at best lame, and at worst disingenuous.

Our federal government needs to connect the dots, and recognize that ramped-up fossil-fuel dependence, enabling pipelines, and consequent greenhouse gas production is ultimately harming humankind, and that includes our own hard-working, and now flood-prone prairie farmers.

Best regards, Warren. I enjoy reading your insightful articles, but on this issue I believe you have chaffed out a few key grains of truth.

Scott Harris

Published in The Chronicle-Journal, Thunder Bay, August 1, 2014