New Brunswick

Irving Oil shifts away from rail to transport crude

The Irving Oil refinery will soon be getting more of its crude oil via ship from Albany, New York, rather than by rail.

More western crude expected to be shipped to Saint John refinery by tanker ship

Irving Oil Ltd. is shifting away from rail as a means to bring Western Bakken Crude from North Dakota to its refinery in Saint John.

A tanker ship called Afrodite has been shuttling crude between Saint John and Albany, N.Y., every eight days since last spring.

But that traffic is expected to soon double, according to Rich Hendrick, the general manager of the Port of Albany.

"I'm hearing that at some point in the very near future the sister ship to the Afrodite will be here, which we believe will be a load of crude going to the refinery in Saint John every four days."

Irving Oil officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The change comes just two months after a train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killing 47 people and releasing roughly 5.5 million litres of oil that either burned or leaked into the environment.

The train on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Rail Ltd. line was carrying a shipment of crude oil destined for Irving's Saint John refinery.

A senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found the crude oil was misidentified as a less volatile substance — Packing Group 3, the least hazardous on the scale.

The oil actually had the properties of a Packing Group 2 substance, which also includes goods like gasoline, that have a lower flash point and will therefore ignite more quickly, said Donald Ross.

It's the responsibility of the organization importing dangerous goods to ensure the products are labelled properly, he said.

An expert on hazardous material spills has called the Lac-Mégantic train explosion "the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history."

Rosa Galvez, chair of the civil water engineering department at Laval University, has estimated the base cost of decontamination could be anywhere from $30 to 50 million.

Hudson River concerns

John Lipscomb, of the Hudson River environmental watchdog group, Riverkeeper, said he is concerned about the pending increased tanker traffic, travelling 150 miles down the narrow river to the sea.

"One of the questions being asked is whether the transport of this kind of product on an extremely sensitive estuary like the Hudson should happen at all," he said.

Lipscomb says the channel is narrower than the ships are wide and the Hudson is tidal all the way up to Albany.

"If there's a spill in a water body like this, it's not the same as a spill five miles off the coast."

Lipscomb questions whether emergency responders would be able to deal with such a spill on the river's upper reaches.

A mock oil spill exercise on the river is planned for this fall, he said.


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