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Saskatchewan derailment shows need for pipelines, Premier says

A Canadian National Railway Co. train derailed west of Saskatoon on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.

RCMP

A dramatic early morning derailment that caused engine oil to leak to onto farmland west of Saskatoon underscores that pipelines are the best way to transport oil products to market, says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

In Canada's latest oil-by-rail spill, 17 cars of a Canadian National Railway Co. train travelling from Winnipeg to Edmonton derailed Wednesday near Landis, Sask.

RCMP said firefighters had to extinguish a grass fire sparked by the derailment, but CN said the fire along the right-of-way was not located near the spill and none of the train's 130 rail cars were involved in the fire. CN spokesman Warren Chandler said a "relatively small amount" of lubricating oil - which he described as non-flammable engine oil - leaked from a tank car valve.

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"There is no puncture to the tank car," Mr. Chandler said.

CN crews spent the day vacuuming up the oil, and a school in Landis - a town about 130 kilometres west of Saskatoon - was evacuated as a precautionary measure. No one was injured, and Mr. Chandler said the cause of the derailment is under investigation.

Weighing in on the derailment from Regina, Mr. Wall said Saskatchewan is going to be transporting more of its oil by rail, and it can be done safely nearly all of the time.

"But we need pipelines. We need them and we need to be unequivocal that pipelines are still certainly the best way," he told reporters.

Mr. Wall has been a booster for his province's burgeoning oil and gas industry. He has been a part of the push to get more Western Canadian crude to markets in the U.S. and abroad, and has lobbied in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

On a day where rail safety was expected to dominate a Winnipeg meeting of provincial transportation ministers and their federal counterpart - the first such meeting since the July derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that killed 47 people - Mr. Wall's position was clear.

"We need the rail, we need the pipe," the Premier said. "But I think all of these derailments underscore the fact that if we think the answer is just we can just turn down all the pipelines and move it onto the railway, you know that's probably not going to be for the best either."

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Facing pipeline capacity constraints, North American oil producers are increasingly turning to rail to get crude to markets - a trend that has sparked a debate about the safety of transporting hazardous goods by rail. The argument that pipelines are safer than rail when it comes to moving hazardous materials was bolstered by a recent study from the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning New York City think tank, that found railways had a spill rate 34 times higher than pipelines. However, the rail industry, in its own analysis, came to a lower number - a spill frequency 2.6 times that of pipelines. The American Association of Railroads has also determined that trains leak smaller amounts.

Of the 17 train cars that derailed in Landis, CN said three cars were carrying lubricating oil, one was carrying ethanol and two cars were carrying condensate - a natural gas liquid that is used to help move thick Western Canadian bitumen through pipelines. The remaining derailed train cars were carrying mixed (non-petroleum) freight. A Calgary-based Transportation Safety Board investigator was en route to the site Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Chandler added that CN expected to have its track reopened to traffic some time Wednesday night.

With a report from Jeffrey Jones

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