An environmental group is petitioning the Manitoba government to put the brakes on an oil shipping line planned for Churchill.

Denver-based company Omnitrax has plan to ship oil through a northern port on a rail line to Churchill.

But Manitoba environmental activists are trying to stop them.

Eric Reder, Manitoba director of the Wilderness Committee, said his group has embarked on a national campaign urging opposition to the plan. He wants Canadians to write letters to their MLAs and MPs to stop the plan.

Reder said Manitoba risks losing a natural treasure if it allows the company to ship oil through the area.

mi-reder

Eric Reder, Manitoba director of the Wilderness Committee, wants Canadians to write letters to their MLAs and MPs to stop a plan by Omnitrax to ship oil through Churchill. (Angela Johnson/CBC)

"The track that runs to Churchill — it runs over some very rough terrain — it’s some of the hardest terrain to put a rail across in the world," said Reder. "As it is, we have derailments. Trains go very, very slow because the rail is always shifting."

Omnitrax officials have been holding community meetings in the area to garner support while they wait for approval from Transport Canada to ship the crude.

Earlier this month, the company announced they made a Tory MP and former chair of a national transportation committee its president.

The company already ships gas and diesel in the area but hasn’t yet been approved to ship crude oil.

Right now, the Wilderness Committee is writing letters to thwart Omnixtrax’s efforts, but Reder said the group has more planned to protect the area.

"We hold it up as an example to the world, ‘Come see the natural beautiful wilderness. Spend time with the polar bears and beluga whales,’ and shipping oil through there and the risk of a spill would put this shining light we hold up at risk," he said.

Omnitrax plans to do a test run on the route in Churchill this fall.

On Friday, Omnitrax issued a statement in response to the group's efforts.

In it, COO Darcy Brede said Omnitrax has "significant experience transporting petroleum products."

Brede continued, "We are committed to safe operations and to minimizing our impact on the environment. We meet, and in some cases exceed, all government regulations and will continue to do so."

Omnitrax’s full statement can be seen below.

OmniTRAX Canada Statement

Provided by Darcy Brede, President and COO   For more than 16 years, OmniTRAX has been a proud part of the Churchill community, providing access to the people and businesses in Manitoba and supporting a variety of industries including grain and petroleum through Hudson’s Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill. Our company has significant experience transporting petroleum products using leading rail safety procedures which are reviewed regularly.  We partner with leading industry health, safety and environmental experts to advise on all areas of the business, including the safe handling and transportation of petroleum. We will continue to undertake activities to ensure that the safety is of utmost importance.   We are committed to safe operations and to minimizing our impact on the environment. We meet, and in some cases exceed, all government regulations and will continue to do so. Over the last year and few weeks, we’ve hosted a number of public information sessions in communities across Northern Manitoba to address questions about our operations and provide information.   Petroleum products have been transported through the Port of Churchill since the 1950s, and OmniTRAX looks forward to diversifying its business and continuing to work in Manitoba.