Farmers want assurances on crude-by-rail plan

Farm leaders are still wary of Alberta’s plans to move more oil by rail, hoping whoever wins the election will be able to prove grain movement won’t be affected.

The deal, which would see the province move 120,000 barrels per day by mid-2020 with smaller shipments beginning in July, came up during the campaign last week.

“The tracks are going to be busier, so there are going to be more issues,” said John Guelly, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

“It’s not like we have a choice to ship our products another way. We can’t build a canola pipeline, as much as we would like to see one.”

NDP leader Rachel Notley has said the increased oil volumes won’t affect grain capacity, a sentiment many transportation experts agree with, because most oil would go to the United States, avoiding congested grain ports in Vancouver.

But her plan could be derailed if UCP leader Jason Kenney is elected.

Kenney has vowed to scrap the NDP measures, arguing it would save Alberta from spending $3.7 billion on the plan and that the private sector would step in to put more oil on the tracks.

“This is one of the most irresponsible deals ever taken by a provincial government, to do something the private sector is already doing,” Kenney said.

But Notley said cancelling the deal would blow $2.2 billion in profit, a figure the NDP anticipates the government will make by moving more oil by rail.

She stressed the medium-term plan is necessary because the province needs to get its oil to market, especially when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been delayed.

“Not only does moving oil by rail clear the backlog, reduce the differential, save jobs, and make a considerable profit, it sends the right signal to international investors,” Notley said.

While many producers understand the oil and gas industry is hurting and needs help, they said they still want assurances that agriculture won’t be negatively affected.

“The railways are already having a hard time keeping up,” said Gary Stanford, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission. “If their performance measures were at 90 percent all the time, maybe we wouldn’t be too concerned.”

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said farmers agree there needs to be solutions to help solve the oil and gas backlog, but they want proven assurances.

“The railways and government has given assurances, but we won’t really know how it all plays out until the trains start moving,” he said.

Guelly, like almost all Albertans, wants the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, which would free up the tracks.

“I’m sure both parties (the NDP and UCP) would be happy to scrap this idea if this pipeline got built,” he said.

“Both the agriculture and oil industry benefit when we all do well, so we are willing to have a little give-and-take here, but it needs to be planned better.”

Albertans go to the polls April 16.

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