Alaska-bound rail project could solve Canada’s oil sands problems – by Diane Francis (National Post – November 17, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

A group of Canadian businessmen has obtained the blessing of Alaskan tribes and Canadian First Nations to build a railroad through their lands that could carry up to five million barrels per day from the oil sands to the super tanker port in Valdez, Alaska.

This is truly a nation-building project that must be seriously evaluated by all governments and the oil industry. Preliminary feelers have been placed and it’s clear that the concept is the most viable and pragmatic solution for Canada’s logistical problems.

The proposed 2,400-kilometre railway would link Fort McMurray, Alta., with the Alaska oil pipeline system then on to the Valdez for export. The proposal, conceived a few years ago in studies commissioned by Alaska and Yukon, would liberate the stranded oil sands and bypass opposition to new pipelines in both countries.

Other solutions have been proposed, but this is the best for many reasons: The group promoting this realizes that any major infrastructure project is a non-starter without a social licence. So they began by seeking and obtaining local support.

“The greatest strength of our Alberta-Alaska railway concept is the support it has received from First Nations along the route and from the Assembly of First Nations across Canada,” said consortium CEO Matt Vickers. He’s a former banker from northeast British Columbia with an engineering background and revealed the project in detail to me. “And the railway was first proposed by Alaska and Yukon, which still support it.”

His group calls itself G7G, Generating for Seven Generations, based on a First Nations’ belief that any major decision today must take into account how it will affect people seven generations in future.

“We found these studies by Alaska and Yukon done in 2005 and 2007, we knew that Valdez faced declines from the North Slope oil fields and we knew that the B.C. pipelines and Kitimat port were opposed. This railway was an obvious solution,” said Vickers. “To ensure this could be a real project, we began to knock on the doors of all the First Nations and tribes in Alaska along the route. I finished doing that in July, getting letters of support from all. Plus, in July, I got support from the National Assembly of First Nations in the form of a resolution representing all 603 chiefs in the Assembly.”

The group is seeking financial support for a feasibility study from industry, investors, B.C., Alberta and Ottawa. Reception has been somewhat cool, not surprising given the existence of powerful vested interests that support current pipeline proposals, such as China, banks and certain oil patch players.

But this railway trumps alternatives and represents the most important, strategic infrastructure project in recent Canadian history with the added benefit that it bypasses pipeline-and-port politics.

In fact, this deal deserves to be fast-tracked and here’s why:

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