Northern Canada: Rail link downed by Alberta wildfire won’t raise fuel prices in Northwest Territories, minister says

CN Rail confirmed last week that a rail bridge along the way to the Hay River, N.W.T. rail yard from Alberta has burned in a wildfire, causing difficulties for the fuel resupply of Northern communities. Fuel is typically brought to Hay River by train before being placed on barges headed north. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
The added expense of trucking fuel north from Edmonton, Alberta for the annual barge resupply won’t be passed along to customers, according to the Northwest Territories Minister of Infrastructure.

In the legislature on Thursday, Wally Schumann was questioned about how trucking fuel north to Hay River, in the southern part of the Northwest Territories, rather than shipping it by rail was going to affect prices consumers pay in communities along the Mackenzie River and further north.

“Imperial Oil has stepped up to the plate on this,” said Schumann. “They have told us they will pay the extra cost for transporting the fuel.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories will only be paying the original rail rates. There is no impact on the price of fuel in the communities. So, we owe a debt of gratitude to Imperial for stepping up to the plate for the residents.”

Last month a wildfire in Alberta burned a bridge along the rail line at the Steen River. The line, which runs from Edmonton to Hay River is out of service until the bridge can be rebuilt.

A spokesperson for Imperial said the company does not speak publicly about agreements with its customers.

“We are working with our customers to manage those additional costs,” said John Harding.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure there’s no delay with the barge season.”

Wally Schumann, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment for the government of the Northwest Territories signed the socio-economic agreement with Fortune Minerals Limited over the company’s proposed mine near Whati. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Last month, Schumann said cancelled barge shipments to three communities last year were partly due to a shipment of bad fuel from Imperial. Schumann said the 1.14 million litre shipment was barged halfway down the Mackenzie River, to Norman Wells, before anyone realized it was bad.

It then had to be barged back to Hay River, pumped back into rail cars, and returned to Edmonton.

Fuel resupply for many N.W.T. communities is barged from Hay River after normally being delivered by rail from Alberta. (NTCL)

At the end of that season, shipments of goods and fuel to Paulatuk (N.W.T.), Kugluktuk (Nunavut) and Cambridge Bay (Nunavut) were cancelled, as well as a shipment of gasoline for Sachs Harbour (N.W.T.). Taxpayers ended up having to pay millions of dollars to airlift some of the essential fuel and goods into the communities.

The barge cancellations were also partly due to high water levels at the beginning of the season and bad ice conditions at the end. Schumann earlier stated the government has negotiated a $54 million sole-sourced contract with Imperial for fuel for three years.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Wet weather in Canada’s Northwest Territories helps free up firefighters for Alberta wildfires, CBC News

Russia: Forest fires rage across Barents region (July 2018), The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Study on Swedish wildfires shows how to make forests rise from the ashes, Radio Sweden

Richard Gleeson, CBC News

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