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Opportunity knocks at the Port of Churchill

December 14, 2012

A number of factors are at play that suggest the Port of Churchill be considered for bitumen/heavy oil exports.

The port has four deep-sea berths capable of handling Panamax-size vessels for the loading and unloading of grain, bulk commodities, general cargo, and tanker vessels. The port is connected to the Hudson Bay Railway, an affiliated company of OmniTRAX. Further connections are made with the Canadian National Railway system. The port is iced in for much of the year and is accessible only between late July and early November, about a 4 month season.

The port is almost entirely reliant on grain from the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) for its viability. Wheat accounts for 90 per cent of all traffic through the port. The CWB shipped 529,000 tonnes of western Canadian wheat through the port of Churchill during the 2009 shipping season.

These are factors that suggest the Port of Churchill would be a viable option for bitumen/heavy oil exports:

In the medium term energy efficiencies and technological advances that have helped unlock vast oil supplies in U.S. shale rock formations are expected to make the U.S. a net exporter of oil by around 2030. Increased US production could well reduce demand for Canadian oil.



Shipping bitumen/heavy oil by rail through Churchill must be an attractive option in the short run. Double hulled tankers and modern sat navigation mitigate the risks of catastrophic spills. If an oil pipeline to the west is a hard sell perhaps Churchill will rise to the challenge.