07/08/2013 10:44 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 12:51 EDT

Lac Megantic Explosions Raise B.C. Rail Safety Questions


A rail disaster in Lac Megantic, Que. that caused deadly explosions have people questioning the safety of oil transport on Canada's west coast.

Five people are dead and about 40 remain missing after a train carrying crude oil derailed in the small town of 6,000 people, destroying much of the downtown including a grocery store, library and popular bar. City hall remains off-limits to the town's residents.

Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, warns that B.C. and other provinces could see increased risk as oil transport by rail ramps up, The Vancouver Sun reported.

"This is a huge risk to our communities, rail lines go through the heart of communities right across this country as well as along our major waterways," he told the newspaper.

Stewart went on to say that two per cent of Canada's oil was shipped by rail in 2012, a threefold increase over what was moved in 2011, and the amount is expected to double or triple again this year.

The news is especially concerning for B.C. as demand ramps up for oil in Asia. Newspaper mogul and refinery proponent David Black has floated the idea of moving crude oil by rail, arguing it is safer than a pipeline, CTV News reported.

And he may be right. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in an oil market outlook report from May that the risk of a rail spill is six times higher than a pipeline spill, but that pipelines spill more when they break.

B.C. politicians are reassuring residents about disaster response in the wake of the explosions. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city is prepared to respond with a Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team, The Province reported.

He added that Vancouver doesn't face the same train speeds as in other towns because the city is at the "terminus of those tracks," though he admitted that aging infrastructure remains a concern.

"With aging tracks and infrastructure and bridges, we have to be on guard and alert to any changes," he said.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese is also reassuring constituents, saying that the town has a full-time fire department trained for derailments.

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