Pipeline Observer

Want to build a pipeline? Consider the Manitoba coast

Published in July, 2018

Industry experts are not keen on the idea, but some admit it MIGHT be viable under certain circumstances. Is it worth studying? One Manitoba MLA thinks so.  Canada needs politicians willing to let industry explore options without the political and regulatory obstruction that has paralyzed energy transport in this country...

Want to build a pipeline? Consider the Manitoba coast

The world has been watching the federal government and the NDP governments in British Columbia and Alberta in dealing with the pipeline issue and the world is gobsmacked at the hypocrisy and spineless “decision-makers.”

At present, the country is descending into public policy oblivion.

In the distance, across the prairie, there are glimmers of light in Alberta where there has been darkness. (Perhaps gas-fired light.)

Alberta and the world should look east for solutions to the self-inflicted woes of the Alberta economy. In Canada, it is never a good idea to look too far east (unless you’re in Atlantic, Canada). But, the true centre of Canada and the keystone province maybe the key to unlocking Alberta resources.

Let’s turn to the Manitoba Marine Coastline.

The Manitoba Marine Coast should be studied as an alternative possibility for the shipment of Alberta bitumen. In the present or in the future.

There are two obvious choices for an ocean port in Manitoba.

Churchill, Manitoba is famous for many reasons, including being Canada’s only port on our northern coast and for being home to some polar bears.

An aerial view of the port of Churchill, Manitoba, Friday, Oct 5, 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Consider this: Churchill has a railway and a deep-water port. Until recently, it was used for grain exports and Via Rail tourism. At present, the rail line is not being used due to incompetent governance at the provincial and federal level and a legal dispute with a U.S. based railway company.

This is a ready-made corridor along a railway line to Churchill, which could include a pipeline. The distance from Lloydminster, Alberta to Churchill is about 1200km the distance from existing pipe-lines that already exist in Manitoba carrying fuel east and south is 1100km. The disputed Kinder Morgan pipeline is exactly 1150km.

Distance is not an issue. Amazingly, they are all about the same in distance. Why go over mountains with a pipeline when you can have a straightaway downhill all the way to the ocean?

If a pipeline follows the natural contours of the prairies, it is essentially all downhill from Alberta to the ocean.

In other words, if you put a toy boat into the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton or the Bow River in Calgary, it will, in theory, find its way to the ocean in Manitoba.

The enormous cost of pushing bitumen through pipelines up mountains and down river valleys may be avoided and save Canadians from the current Alberta, British Columbia, and federal government fumbling and tumbling of the economy, if some out-of-the-box thinking is employed.

Until recently, it’s been my view that a pipeline to Churchill would be ridiculous. But that was before being faced with the über-ridiculousness of the various current governments and their pipeline fumbles.

The unimaginable is now plausible and serious people need to stop and consider the Manitoba coast for development.

The toy boat mentioned earlier will not actually appear at Churchill, but would instead reach the coast at an alternative site called Port Nelson.

The Nelson River is the outlet for Lake Winnipeg and, more than that, the Nelson River watershed includes most of Alberta.

In fact, Port Nelson was the original terminus of the federal government when the rail line construction to Hudson’s Bay began before the First World War. For a variety of reasons — including said war and political intrigue — Port Nelson became the boondoggle of the day for the federal Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

As a result, the terminus was redirected north towards Churchill, Manitoba. The rail line was longer, but Churchill has some natural advantages in comparison to Port Nelson.

For this reason, when you look at a map of the rail way, it follows the Nelson River before changing directions further north in a dramatic manner. This kink in the railway is obvious to anyone with a map.

Churchill or Port Nelson can both be utilized in very impressive ways. Modern knowledge and engineering techniques make what was impossible in the early 20th century completely possible in the 21st century.

This energy corridor will be significantly cheaper than the 10 billion dollars the next pipeline to tide water will cost.

(This is assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the Kinder Morgan pipeline will eventually be built.)

Port Nelson is a shorter route and a very manageable distance from the railway line.

The positives seem to be many, including providing Alberta an alternative port for its products and utilising the Manitoba marine coast to shore up Canadian sovereignty.

The people of Churchill will be finally able to use the railway and employment opportunities will be created across the prairies. Such an energy corridor would act as a mitigating factor when investments into the Alberta economy are considered, reduce political risk, and any number of scenarios from earthquakes to geopolitical issues.

Still, there are some obvious factors that must be considered.

First Nations would need to be consulted from the very beginning. The winter ice-pack would need to be contemplated with perhaps a purpose-made icebreaker and solutions for any environmental issues would need to be found.

Perhaps tankers could be built with specific criteria for traversing the Arctic. Special containerships are designed to specific specs all the time. For example, containerships (Lakers) are designed specifically for the St. Laurence Seaway from Thunder Bay to the ocean or the Panama Canal and so on.

Many people suggest that ice will not be the historic factor due to global warming on Hudson Bay. Others have even suggested the Northwest passage would be clear of ice and opening the possibility of cutting down shipping time dramatically by sending material directly to Asia.

Is a Manitoba marine port for Alberta energy possible? Absolutely.

Is it probable? Probably not, but we don’t know.

Is it worth the study? Yes.

A serious study would also have the benefit of shedding light on the hypocrisy of vested political interests.


Steven Fletcher is an Independent Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Assiniboia. He was previously a Conservative MP for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia.

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