OTTAWA - CN Rail, at the urging of Chinese-owned Nexen Inc., is considering shipping Alberta bitumen to Prince Rupert, B.C., by rail in quantities matching the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, documents show.

Internal memos obtained by Greenpeace under the Access to Information Act show the rail carrier raised the proposal last March with Natural Resources Canada.

"Nexen Inc. is reportedly working with CN to examine the transportation of crude oil on CN's railway to Prince Rupert, B.C., to be loaded onto tankers for export to Asia," states a departmental briefing note setting up the March 1 meeting.

An attached CN presentation paper notes that "CN has ample capacity to run seven trains per day to match Gateway's proposed capacity."

CN is denying it has made a specific proposal for Prince Rupert but says it will consider any such project as it comes up.

Greenpeace provided the documents to The Canadian Press.

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry crude oil to Kitimat, B.C., has met fierce opposition from First Nations and environmentalists.

Greenpeace researcher Keith Stewart said the CN rail pitch has the appearance of a "Plan B" in case Northern Gateway is blocked, but that it raises "the same or greater risks."

The horrific Lac-Megantic, Que., disaster in July, which claimed 47 lives when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, has focused intense scrutiny on the burgeoning oil-by-rail industry.

Some 5.5 million litres of oil either burned or leaked into the environment in Lac-Megantic. The fire burned for four days.

A spokesman for CN Rail told The Canadian Press in an email that "no specific crude-by-rail project to Prince Rupert (was) discussed" at the March meeting with Natural Resources Canada.

The company "does not disclose publicly its commercial discussions with customers," Mark Hallman said in the email.

"CN will continue to explore new opportunities to move crude oil safely and efficiently to markets," Hallman wrote.

"The company will consider concrete crude-by-rail proposals, including any specific project to move crude to Prince Rupert. However, there is no infrastructure in place at Prince Rupert to transfer crude oil from train tank cars to vessels."

Hallman also noted it was the government that asked CN for the meeting, not the other way around.

Indeed, the documents obtained by Greenpeace show Ottawa was intensely interested in oil by rail, at least prior to the Quebec accident.

"NRCan is currently meeting with Transport Canada to mutually understand how rail could be part of a solution to current market access challenges," says an undated memorandum for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

The memo describes rail as "an increasingly viable option" and states that carriers Canadian Pacific and CN "have indicated that the potential to increase rail movements of crude oil is theoretically unlimited."

Rail officials had indicated that a project to bring crude to port for tanker export "is likely in future."

A separate memo for International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Dennis Lebel, then the transport minister, assets that Transport Canada "has identified no major safety concerns with the increased oil on rail capacity in Canada, nor with the safety of tank cars ..."

The memo states that "transportation of oil by rail does not trigger the need for a federal environmental assessment" but notes that "proposals to construct new infrastructure to support the activity" may require an assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The "Departmental Position" on oil by rail is entirely blacked out from the memo.

Greenpeace's Stewart said the Lac-Megantic tragedy revealed that federal safety regulations hadn't kept pace with the oil-by-rail boom.

"If the government or industry imagines they can use these regulatory loopholes to do an end-run around opposition to tar sands moving through those lands or waters, they will be in for a rude awakening," said Stewart.

Opposition in Canada to the Northern Gateway and in the United States to TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline has keyed on stopping or slowing development of Alberta's oilsands development.

The undated memo to Oliver, the natural resources minister, suggests that's wishful thinking.

"Despite difficulties related to new pipeline capacity, Canadian crude producers are unlikely to slow down production and will turn to rail to ensure their product reaches market," said the memo.

"To date, there hasn't been a project to bring crude by rail to port for tanker export, however rail officials indicate that such a project is likely in future."

— With additional reporting by Dene Moore in Vancouver.

Like this article? Follow our Facebook page

Or follow us on Twitter




Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Niger Delta ExxonMobil Spill, Nigeria - May 2010

    In Nigeria's Akwa Ibom State, an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured on May 1 and spilled over a million gallons of oil, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell" target="_hplink">reported the <em>Guardian</em></a>. The leak continued for seven days before it was stopped. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/omoyele-sowore/the-oil-spill-no-ones-tal_b_649220.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger Omoyele Sowore explained</a> in July 2010 that an oil spill from ExxonMobil operations was nothing new to the country. He wrote that an "environmental catastrophe [had] been going on since December 2009." He described the toll on Nigeria: "There's oil on the surface of the ocean, wildlife coated in crude, fishermen losing their businesses." In 2011, the Nigerian government said there had been <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/05/world/la-fg-nigeria-oil-20110805">more than 7,000 oil spills</a> in the country between 1970 and 2000 that could take up to 30 years and $1 billion to clean up.

  • Trans-Alaska Pipeline Spill - May 2010

    In May 2010, several thousand barrels of oil spilled from the Trans-Alaska pipeline "during a scheduled pipeline shutdown at a pump station near Fort Greely," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/alaska-oil-spill-trans-al_n_589974.html" target="_hplink">explained AP</a>. No injuries were reported and officials said the spill was likely "limited to the gravel on top of the containment area's line."

  • Red Butte Creek Spill, Utah - June 2010

    In June 2010, a Chevron pipeline ruptured and spilled oil into a creek near Salt Lake City, Utah. It was first estimated that over 17,000 to 21,000 gallons spilled into the creek, which leads into the Great Salt Lake, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/12/utah-oil-spill-500-gallon_n_610232.html#s99698" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Around 150 birds were "identified for rehabilitation." The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/14/utah-oil-spill-officials-_n_611014.html" target="_hplink">oil did not reach the Great Salt Lake</a>, however. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/14/chevron-cited-for-oil-spi_n_646340.html" target="_hplink">Chevron was later cited for the spill</a>, which released an estimated 33,000 gallons in total. In March 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120324/us-oil-spill-utah/" target="_hplink">a group of 66 residents of a Salt Lake City neighborhood sued Chevron</a> for damage caused by the Red Butte Creek spill and a smaller spill in December 2011.

  • Kalamazoo River Spill, Michigan - July 2010

    In late July 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in southwestern Michigan sprung a leak and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/27/michigan-oil-spill-among_n_661196.html" target="_hplink">spilled over 800,000 gallons of oil into a creek</a> which flows into the Kalamazoo River. By August, a regional EPA administrator said that significant progress had been made at the site, but "the agency cautioned that it will take months to complete the cleanup," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/02/michigan-oil-spill-epa-of_n_667556.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. By the end of September, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/27/michigan-oil-pipeline-res_n_741233.html" target="_hplink">the pipeline -- which travels from Ontario to Indiana -- was back in operation</a>. The EPA later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20111116/us-michigan-river-oil-spill/" target="_hplink">reported that about 1.1 million gallons of oil were recovered</a>, but pipeline operator Enbridge said that it would stick with previous estimates that only about 843,000 gallons were spilled.

  • Xingag Harbor Spill, Dailan, China - July 2010

    In July 2010, China experienced what was reported as the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/21/china-oil-spill-grows-off_n_653852.html#s120708" target="_hplink">country's largest reported oil spill</a>" after a pipeline rupture near the northeastern port city of Dailan. Several days after the spill, cleanup efforts were underway over a 165 square mile (430 square kilometer) area of the Yellow Sea. The Chinese government reported that about 1,500 tons or 461,790 gallons of oil had spilled, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/30/china-oil-spill-far-bigge_n_665038.html#s120708" target="_hplink">experts contended that the spill could have been "dozens of times larger,"</a> reported AP.

  • Peace River Spill, Alberta, Canada - April 2011

    In late April 2011, a pipeline in northwestern Alberta began leaking, and created the worst spill in the province in 36 years, <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/alberta/Rainbow+pipeline+leak+largest+years/4720888/story.html" target="_hplink">reported the <em>Calgary Herald</em></a>. About 1,176,000 gallons of oil were reportedly spilled from the Rainbow pipeline, which is operated by Plains Midstream Canada. The <em>Globe and Mail</em> revealed that the pipeline operators "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/oil-on-rainbow-line-halted-8-hours-after-problem-detected/article2013335/" target="_hplink">detected a potential problem nearly eight hours before halting the flow of crude</a>." A nearby school in a First Nation community was closed after residents reported "nausea, burning eyes and other symptoms," and several animals were found dead. In late July, Plains Midstream <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/07/28/alberta-pipeline-owner-as_n_912796.html" target="_hplink">requested to re-open the pipeline</a> and begin to ship oil to Edmonton again.

  • Bohai Bay Spill, China - June 2011

    In June 2011, an oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/01/china-offshore-oil-spills-bohai-bay_n_888473.html" target="_hplink">spill occurred about 25 miles off the coast of China's Shandong province</a> in Bohai Bay. A second spill followed in July. In late August, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/26/new-seeps-in-china-spill_n_937809.html" target="_hplink">it was reported</a> that ConocoPhillips had discovered more oil seeps in Bohai Bay, although only "1 to 2 liters (a quarter to a half-gallon) of oil and drilling mud were being released each day." The company reported that the 2011 spills released 29,400 gallons of oil and 2,500 barrels of drilling mud into the bay and that most of it was recovered. In September, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/05/china-oil-spill-conocophillips_n_949745.html" target="_hplink">China's State Oceanic Administration claimed that oil was still seeping</a> underwater. In early 2012, Texas-based ConocoPhillips <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120124/as-china-oil-spill/" target="_hplink">reached a settlement deal with the Chinese government</a> for $160 million.

  • Yellowstone River Spill, Montana - July 2011

    In July 2011, a pipeline beneath Montana's Yellowstone River ruptured and sent an oil plume 25 miles downstream, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/02/yellowstone-oil-spill-pro_n_889363.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Despite reassurances from ExxonMobil that the pipeline was safe, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/yellowstone-river-oil-spill-exxon-mobil_n_891246.html" target="_hplink">the July spill released what was originally estimated to be 42,000 gallons of oil</a>. With other 1,000 workers assisting the cleanup, ExxonMobil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/yellowstone-river-cleanup-costs_n_1077106.html" target="_hplink">estimated that it would cost $135 million to clean the river</a>. In January 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/exxon-yellowstone-oil-spill_n_1216830.html" target="_hplink">it was reported</a> that ExxonMobil had increased its estimate of the spill size by 21,000 gallons. AP later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/yellowstone-river-spill-response-plan_n_1408328.html" target="_hplink">reported the estimated spill size as 63,000 gallons</a>. <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> A previous version of this slide stated the estimated spill size as 63,000 barrels instead of gallons.</em>

  • North Sea Spill, United Kingdom - Aug. 2011

    In August 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/15/north-sea-spill-uk-oil-spill_n_927078.html" target="_hplink">an oil rig off the eastern coast of Scotland began leaking</a> oil into the North Sea. Royal Dutch Shell, which operates the Gannet Alpha oil rig, initially reported that 54,600 gallons of oil were spilled. A second leak soon occurred, turning the spill into the worst in the North Sea in a decade, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/north-sea-oil-spill-shell_n_927941.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Several days later, Shell announced that it had "closed a valve from which oil was spilling into the North Sea," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/shell-says-it-has-closed-_n_931379.html" target="_hplink">according to AP</a>. The spill released about 1,300 barrels of oil, which spread out over a 2.5 square mile (6.7 square kilometer) area.

  • Campos Basin Spill, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Nov. 2011

    In mid-November 2011, Brazilian authorities began investigating an offshore spill near Rio de Janeiro, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/chevron-oil-spill-brazil_n_1100062.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Chevron initially reported that between 400 and 650 barrels of oil had spilled into the Atlantic, while a nonprofit environmental group using satellite imagery estimated that the spill rate was at least 3,738 barrels per day. Chevron soon claimed full responsibility for the spill. The brazilian division's COO said, Chevron "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/20/brazil-oil-spill-chevron-_n_1104070.html" target="_hplink">takes full responsibility for this incident</a>," and that "any oil on the surface of the ocean is unacceptable to Chevron," reported AP. In December, Brazilian prosecutors announced that they were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/14/brazil-oil-spill-chevron-payment_n_1149554.html"target="_hplink">seeking $10.6 billion in damages</a> from Chevron for the spill that leaked nearly 126,000 gallons of oil. In March 2012, a Brazilian federal judge <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/18/brazil-oil-spill-chevron_n_1355923.html" target="_hplink">allowed prosecutors to file criminal charges against Chevron and Transocean</a> and 17 executives from both companies were barred from leaving Brazil.

  • Rena Spill, New Zealand - Oct. 2011

    In October 2011, a Liberian-flagged cargo ship ran aground on a reef in Northern New Zealand and began leaking oil. With oil washing up on shore, a government minister deemed it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/new-zealand-oil-spill_n_1004643.html" target="_hplink">the country's largest maritime environmental disaster</a> a week later. Although over 2,000 sea birds were killed by the spill that spilled about 400 tons of fuel oil, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/new-zealand-oil-spill-penguins_n_1107289.html" target="_hplink">343 little blue penguins were rescued and cleaned of oil</a>. <em>[<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/new-zealand-oil-spill-penguins-released_n_1151788.html" target="_hplink">Watch video of the penguins' release into the wild here.</a>]</em> In January, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/new-zealand-oil-spill-ship_n_1196568.html" target="_hplink">half of the stricken Rena began sinking</a> into the sea after breaking apart and spilling over 100 cargo containers.

  • Nigeria Oil Spill - Dec. 2011

    The spill, which took place near the coast of Nigeria, was reported as "likely the worst to hit those waters in a decade," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/shell-oil-spill-nigeria_n_1164891.html" target="_hplink">according to AP</a>. After two days, the spill had affected 115 miles (185 kilometers) of Nigerian coastline. Several days after the December 20 spill, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/26/shell-nigeria-oil-spill_n_1170198.html" target="_hplink">Shell reported that the leak -- which occurred about 75 miles offshore -- had been contained before it reached the Nigerian coast</a>. The spill, which covered 350 square miles of ocean at its peak, was reported as having released less than "40,000 barrels -- or 1.68 million gallons" of oil.

  • Red Deer River Spill, Alberta, Canada - June 2012

    In June 2012, 126,000 gallons of sour crude oil leaked from a submerged pipeline into the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/08/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1581008.html">Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada</a> before being swept downstream to the Gleniffer Lake and Reservoir, a main source of drinking water for several communities near the spill. A $75 million <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/22/red-deer-river-oil-spill-lawsuit_n_1620267.html">class-action lawsuit was filed</a> against the owners of the pipelines, and in October 2012, the Canadian government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/07/red-deer-river-fishing_n_1752902.html">banned fishing in the river </a>in order to study the long-term environmental impacts of the spill. This was the second major spill in the province and for the company that owns the line, <a href="http://www.plainsmidstream.com/">Plains Midstream Canada</a>, in two years. In 2011, 1.1 million gallons of oil leaked into the Peace River from a damaged pipeline in a remote corner of the province.

  • Arthur Kill Oil Spill - October 2012

    In October 2012, 336,000 gallons of diesel fuel <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/arthur-kill-oil-spill-new-jersey_n_2054267.html">spilled into the Arthur Kill waterway</a> as a result of Superstorm Sandy when two storage tank were damaged by 13-foot waves. The spill contaminated the narrow band of water that separates Staten Island from New Jersey, releasing a strong chemical odor into the air as the diesel rose to the surface and evaporated. Officials said a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/arthur-kill-oil-spill-clean-up-diesel-shell_n_2058723.html">majority of the fuel spilled was captured</a> by booms and that it was fortunate diesel spilled rather than crude oil because cleanup and dissipation would be much faster.

  • Mayflower, Arkansas Pipeline Rupture - March 2013

    In late March 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and spilled about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of Canadian heavy crude oil into a residential area in Mayflower, Arkansas. Exxon later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/exxonmobil-pegasus-pipeline_n_3082441.html" target="_blank">removed a damaged 52-foot section of the pipeline</a>. The company's cleanup efforts -- which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/rachel-maddow-mayflower-oil-spill-exxon_n_3047331.html" target="_blank">reportedly included using paper towels</a> -- were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/colberts-arkansas-oil-spill-exxon_n_3071539.html" target="_blank">criticized in the media</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/arkansas-oil-spill-health-_n_3045610.html" target="_blank">Local residents began reporting health issues</a> not long after the spill. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also expressed his concern for the health of Mayflower residents, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/arkansas-oil-spill-health-mayflower-moms_n_3267965.html" target="_blank">reported The Huffington Post's Lynne Peeples</a>. One month after the spill, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/01/missouri-oil-spill-exxon_n_3194177.html" target="_blank">same pipeline leaked one barrel of oil</a> into a residential yard in Missouri.

  • Mississippi River Oil Spill - January 2013 (and February 2012)

    In January 2013, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/mississippi-river-barge-crash_n_2564418.html">barge carrying 668,000 gallons of light crude oil</a> on the Mississippi River crashed into a railroad bridge. An 80,000 gallon tank on the vessel was damaged, spilling oil into the waterway, which prompted officials to close the river for eight miles in either direction. The spill led to a backup of more than 1,000 barges and the accident is still under investigation. Workers <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Oil-spill-cleanup-on-Mississippi-River-complete-4257729.php">finished clean-up in early February</a>, but the Coast Guard said 7,000 gallons of crude oil are still unaccounted for. This was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/mississippi-river-barge-collision_n_1284166.html">the second collision of an oil tanker</a> on the Mississippi in the past year. In February 2012 two barges collided which led to a five-mile wide closure.

  • Also On The Huffington Post...