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Making Waves

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Analysis of Canadian water politics by the Council of Canadians' national water campaigner.

Suncor sneaks tar sands tankers into St. Lawrence and Great Lakes

| October 9, 2014
Suncor sneaks tar sands tankers into St. Lawrence and Great Lakes

Suncor is setting a precedent around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin with its new shipments of bitumen on the St. Lawrence River.  On September 24, the first ever tanker to ship bitumen on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin left the port of Sorel-Tracey in Quebec. The tanker, the Minerva-Gloria, carried an estimated 700,000 barrels of bitumen to Sardinia, Italy which arrived on Tuesday at 4:22 p.m. local time. A second tanker, the Genmar Daphne, is expected to arrive in Sorel on Sunday, October 12 where it will be loaded, travel along the St. Lawrence River and transport another load of Alberta bitumen to Italy. There are plans to ship 20 to 30 vessels like this each year along the St. Lawrence River.

A spill would have catastrophic effects on this waterway that millions of people rely on for drinking water.

Transport Canada and the government of Quebec approved these shipments without a thorough environmental assessment, public consultation and free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities and municipalities. The Council of Canadians opposes these shipments because of the risk they pose to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin. Many other organizations, communities and First Nations are also deeply concerned about the threat of bitumen shipments on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. These shipments set a dangerous precedent and present an increased threat to the waters of the Basin.

Every day, energy giant Suncor transports bitumen via CN Rail from Alberta to a storage space in Quebec operated by Kildair Services. Given the train derailment in Wadena, Saskatchewan on Tuesday and the catastrophe in Lac Mégantic last summer, the transport of hazardous materials by rail poses an increased risk to many communities along the route.

It is unclear what Suncor's emergency response plan is and what safeguards have been put in place to protect communities along the rail and shipping route.

Just two days before the first shipment departed, Bloc Québécois MP Mr. Louis Plamondon raised concerns about the ability of the federal government respond to a spill:

Mr. Speaker, a year ago, the federal government prohibited ships wider than 32 metres from going up the St. Lawrence River any further than Quebec City. Today there is a 44-metre-wide ship docked at Sorel-Tracy to take on tens of thousands of tonnes of crude oil.
In 2010, the auditor general was very critical of the federal government’s ability to respond in the event of a marine oil spill.

Can the minister tell us whether the federal government’s response capability meets the Auditor General’s requirements and prove that it is prepared to respond in the event of a spill, before increasing the frequency of this kind?

The mayor of Tracy raised concerns about the town's ability to respond to a spill. A dozen municipalities along the river also do not have the lack of technical and financial capacity to address a spill.  

Suncor's shipments could pave the way for a plan being hatched by Calumet Specialty Products to build an oil terminal in Superior, Wisconsin at the edge of Lake Superior and at the foot of the Alberta Clipper, a pipeline that transports Alberta crude from Edmonton. The oil terminal would be able to load one oil tanker or barge every four days, with each tanker being able to hold about 77,000 barrels of crude oil and a 400-foot-long barge being able to hold about 110,000 barrels. Thirteen million barrels of crude oil could be shipped across the Great Lakes each year.

With the European Union recently abandoning plans to label more carbon intensive fuels such as tar sands and fracked oil, we could see an increase in plans to ship bitumen by tanker across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

These extreme energy projects are more water and energy intensive and are threatening the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin like never before. Read more about the first shipment and Maude Barlow's report Liquid Pipeline: Extreme energy's threat to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Pipelines. There is also a move to "re-export" tar sands crude to Europe and Asia, via the U.S.

Suncor shipments are still in its early stages with the second shipment. Now is the time to stop them and call for genuine public debate and a full environmental review.

Here are five things you can do to stop Suncor's shipments:

  1. Sign our action alert calling on Transport Canada and the Quebec’s Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change
  2. Contact your mayor and municipal councillor and urge them to call for a full environmental review and genuine public debate.
  3. Contact your Member of Parliament to express your concerns and urge them to call for a moratorium on the shipments until a full environmental review and public consultations are complete.  
  4. Write a Letter to the Editor. Letters are read by politicians and members of the community. It’s  a great way to educate people about these shipments.
  5. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues about these shipments. Despite the grave risks they pose, there is little information about the plan.



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