A task force report that examines the idea of transporting crude oil from the Alberta oilsands to the B.C. coast via rail has been handed in to the British Columbia and Alberta governments.
The joint provincial working group was announced by premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford in July to develop recommendations related to energy exports and the opening of new export markets for products like bitumen for the two provinces, including pipeline and rail transport.
"Rail can be considered a viable alternative to pipeline movement based on costs of transport," the terms of reference for the group states. "If pipelines are not developed, rail will step into the void to deliver bitumen to the West Coast."
The provincial working group was mandated to submit a report to both leaders by the end of December.
An Alberta government official did not respond to a question about the completion or release of the report, while an official in Clark's office said the report is complete but that no date has been set for a public release.
Rail accidents raise alarm
Ben West, campaign director for the environmental group ForestEthics, called the task force's mandate "underhanded."
It's a "backdoor way for industry to bring tankers to the coast without the same sort of public oversight or public process that we've had around the Enbridge pipeline or would have around the Kinder Morgan pipeline," West said.
West also said any consideration of moving oil by rail raises safety questions, especially in light of two recent high-profile train accidents.
Oil transport by rail has become a contentious topic after a train containing crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in July, killing 47 people. Another train exploded, without injuries, last month in North Dakota.
"Myself and other people were pretty freaked out about what happened there," West said of the two fiery blasts.
The task force that submitted the report is led by Steve Carr, deputy minister of natural gas development in B.C. and Grant Sprague, deputy minister of energy in Alberta.
No one from either provincial ministry could be reached for comment.
CN Rail declined comment.