WINNIPEG — Environmental activists and at least one Manitoba MP are rejoicing after OmniTrax announced on Friday its decision not to ship crude oil through the Port of Churchill.
The Wilderness Committee, the largest environmental research group in Canada with 60,000 members, sent out a celebratory news release titled “Victory! Churchill, Manitoba to Remain Crude-oil Free.”
Manitoba campaign director Eric Reder said the committee has been protesting OmniTrax’s move to ship crude oil since last August, when the idea was originally floated. After a year’s worth of town hall meetings and thousands of letters sent to the provincial and federal governments, Reder considers OmniTrax’s change of heart a triumph for environmental advocates and northern residents alike.
“What we were asking of OmniTrax was to find any other product other than crude oil (to ship) because every other product other than this specific one is easier to clean up,” Reder said. “People from around the world voiced their objection. Today we are all relieved.”
The possibility of an oil spill on the rickety rails leading to Churchill was all too real after a train derailed on Monday while headed to the Port of Churchill with grain shipments. The environmental risks of shipping crude oil to the north proved greater than the possible economic rewards for northerners, said Churchill NDP MP Niki Ashton.
“People didn’t feel safe, not only for the environmental conditions but because the emergency measures aren’t in place at all,” Ashton said. “Northerners and First Nations leaders spoke out loud and clear ... although OmniTrax may not acknowledge that overtly.”
Ashton said she hopes to see a more definite commitment in the future from OmniTrax in consulting with area residents on where and what it plans to ship.
“OmniTrax has a lead role to play and I hope they continue to do that and support and respect the livelihoods of Northerners,” Ashton said.
» Winnipeg Free Press