The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
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.
You Might Also Like
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.