Ever since CP Rail started operating an oil transload facility in the heart of Estevan, there have been many recurring questions that began with the words “what if?”
What if there's a derailment? What if mass evacuations are needed? What if it causes a fire or an explosion? What if it a significant part of the city is destroyed?
We received an answer to one question on Thursday, after four rail cars derailed in central Estevan. And while there wasn't a leak from the derailment, while there wasn't a fire or an explosion, and hundreds of people weren't force to flee their homes, immediate action is needed to ensure that we don't have to contemplate explosions, fires and evacuations.
Estevan dodged a bullet. It could have been much worse. We can be thankful that the train was moving at a slow rate of speed when it derailed. But immediate action is needed to reduce the risk of another derailment in our city.
This should be the warning sign to CP Rail that the transload facility has to be relocated from the heart of Estevan to a rural area beyond Estevan's city limits.
It makes sense, from a financial perspective, for CP Rail to have its transload facility in Estevan. But it would still make financial sense to have a transload facility in a rural area. And it makes more sense from a safety perspective for the transload facility to move.
But CP Rail has been given a beautiful gift for a business – near immunity. We can gripe and complain about the transload facility all we want. We can send letters to politicians. We can circulate petitions.
Council can pass motions asking CP Rail to pull the facility from Estevan. None of it really means anything.
If Transport Canada is okay with the transload facility remaining in Estevan, then it will remain. CP Rail won't have to do anything. They can ignore all the frustration and the vitriol from local residents, and all the requests to withdraw the facility.
This incident also reinforces the need to build more pipelines to ship crude oil. Pipelines represent the safest method to ship oil. They are a much more reliable option than rail.
We've now had two derailments involving crude oil shipments by rail in southeast Saskatchewan in the last two-and-a-half years. The last one, near Oxbow in January of 2012, resulted in oil being leaked, but no loss of life, and it wasn't an environmental disaster.
Thankfully, Estevan only had to worry about a few rail cars going off the tracks.
The next time there's a train derailment, we might not be so lucky.