A tanker ship moves through the Panama Canal.
In the News

Western Canadian oil arrives in New Brunswick — by ship

Marine transport to an East Coast refinery via the Panama Canal raises the question: why not an all-Canadian pipeline?

A tanker full of oil from Western Canada’s oil sands has arrived safely at Canada’s largest refinery on the other side of the continent.

After loading at Trans Mountain’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., on June 18 the tanker Cabo de Hornos began a voyage of 11,900 kilometres to Irving Oil Limited’s refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. The tanker headed south along the U.S. west coast, then through the Panama Canal in Central America, before chugging up the U.S. east coast and finally to its destination. The shipper, Cenovus Energy Inc., announced the safe arrival of the tanker in mid-July.

The Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick is the largest refinery in Canada. Photo: April Phinney / Shutterstock.com

“We were pleased with the economics of this transaction and excited to work with Irving Oil,” said Keith Chiasson, executive vice-president, Downstream. “This is a one-off shipment for now, but we think there’s tremendous potential for more oil from Western Canada to make its way east, expanding our customer base here at home. It’s truly a Canadian success story.

Chiasson noted that refining more Canadian oil in Canada will provide job opportunities and strengthen Canada’s economy.

Pipelines offer a better solution

It might seem odd, sending oil produced in Canada via tanker almost all the way south to the equator and back again to reach a refinery that’s also in Canada. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get crude oil from Western Canada to refineries in the east. This recent shipment has revived discussion of a made-in-Canada solution: the Energy East pipeline.

Irving Oil strongly supported the $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project, which was proposed by TransCanada Corp. (now TC Energy Corp.) in 2014 to transport western Canadian oil to markets in Central and Eastern Canada. The project was cancelled in 2017 amid opposition from environmental groups and from provinces along the proposed route. The Panama Canal marine shipping route is more than twice the length of the 4,600-kilometre Energy East pipeline.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is in favour of supplying Canadian refineries with Canadian-produced oil (as opposed to importing oil from foreign suppliers). CAPP president and CEO Tim McMillan adds that a west-to-east pipeline could make this process a whole lot easier. “Marine shipping doesn’t make sense compared with the alternative: Energy East. While Canada’s safety record for marine shipments is impeccable, pipelines are by far the most efficient means of transporting oil.”