When was the last time you heard the following story on national news: today, a truck transporting solar panels overturned on a highway spilling them into a river? I'm pretty sure the answer is never. That is because, at most, it would be a local news story for causing a traffic jam. The conclusion of that story would be that crews pulled the solar panels out of the river, dried them off, and took them to their destination, where they provided clean, free energy to a neighborhood for many years to come.
Aliceville train derailment disaster (Waterkeeper Alliance/John L. Wathen)
The story is very different when it comes to fossil fuels, which, in addition to being dirty during extraction, combustion and disposal, can violently disrupt our communities during transport. Over the past year, we have seen a remarkable increase in fossil fuel transport disasters. And when fossil fuel transport goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. Quite often, these disasters involve crude oil that is extremely dangerous and volatile and that is transported via railways that run next to or over our nation's waterways. This unnecessarily threatens drinking water supplies, recreational resources and the health and safety of our communities.
Recent examples abound: In July 2013, a train carrying oil from North Dakota lost control in Quebec and the resulting explosion killed 47 people. In November 2013, a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken crude oil derailed into a west Alabama swamp, devastating the community of Aliceville. Shortly after that, a train derailed in Casselton, ND, prompting a "strongly recommended" evacuation of residents. In April 2014, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed into the James River, causing hundreds of people to be evacuated from downtown Lynchburg, VA. That is just a small sampling of how the fossil fuel industry puts our communities at grave risk transporting such dangerous, explosive cargo. According to Politico, there were 132 oil train incidents from 2009 to 2012; 118 incidents in 2013; and already 70 just through the first five months of 2014.
Even as these disasters become more frequent, the industry pushes for increased oil transport, including a proposal in New York to turn the Hudson River Valley into a virtual pipeline of crude oil transport by rail and vessel. Why should our communities be forced to allow these DOT-111 "bomb trains"—so called by rail workers due to their inadequate safety measures combined with crude oil's volatility—to go through their communities by rail? The answer is, they shouldn't. After the Exxon Valdez disaster, and despite industry protest, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 required oil tanker ships to be double-hulled. While double hulling may not have prevented the Valdez disaster, it likely would have dramatically reduced the amount of oil spilled. The National Research Council estimated that double hulls would reduce spills from groundings by 85 percent and from collisions by 50 percent. The acceptable level should be 100 percent; fortunately, we haven't had a major tanker spill since the double hull requirement.
However, we now allow dangerous bomb trains to run right through our communities, without the adequate precautions from the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for our public interest. As a result, disasters like those referenced above are increasing in frequency. The National Transportation Safety Board has acknowledged that DOT-111s are easily ruptured during accidents. After the Quebec disaster, the Canadian government ordered 5,000 DOT-111 trains to be removed from service and for 65,000 other cars to be either removed or retrofitted within three years. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) also acted in May 2014, but with too little, too late. The Agency's emergency order requiring railroads to notify state emergency management officials before moving large shipments of crude oil through their state only applies to trains carrying 35 cars or more of Bakken crude oil. A requirement covering all rail transport of crude oil would be more transparent and best protect first responders, the general public and the environment. Even better would be a mandatory removal of DOT-111 "bomb trains" from service, until the industry proves it can transport oil safely.
As it stands now, the order does not do enough to reduce the risk of future derailments. Of the 92,000 bomb train cars currently used to transport flammable liquids, only 14,000 meet the latest safety standards. It cannot be acceptable to have 85 percent of train cars in service not meeting the latest safety standards.
Bakken crude oil train derailment in western Alabama (Waterkeeper Alliance/John L. Wathen)
These bomb trains need to be stopped until the industry makes essential safety improvements. This transport of crude oil puts at risk our communities and the waters we use for swimming, drinking and fishing. The railways need to learn from the Exxon Valdez spill and put in place preventive measures to protect the environment before we see the rail equivalent of a Valdez disaster. Congress and regulatory agencies like the DOT need to step in and stand up for communities and waterways to protect them from these disastrous bomb trains. I encourage you to contact your elected officials and demand the oversight that we all deserve—and that we desperately need.
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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