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Crude Gamble: Oil-by-Rail Threatens Safety of People and Planet in Pacific Northwest

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Crude Gamble: Oil-by-Rail Threatens Safety of People and Planet in Pacific Northwest

With an estimated 9 million barrels of crude oil moving over rail lines in North America at any given moment, it's no wonder that safety and environmental ramifications of oil-by-rail are top of mind for many. In the wake of the one year anniversary of Quebec's Lac-Mégantic fatal train derailment explosion, it's imperative that more people become aware of the dangers of unprecedented amounts of oil being transported through the heart of communities and cities in the U.S. and Canada. 

Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail, a video produced and published this week by VICE News, investigates the rapid expansion of oil-by-rail transport. Producer and cinematographer Spencer Chumbley, accompanied by Nilo Tabrizy, traveled to the Pacific Northwest to speak with residents and experts on the front lines of the battle over bomb trains in the Seattle, Washington area.

"When you walk around Washington and Oregon with a camera in your hand and a tripod slung over your shoulder, people are going to come up and ask you what you are working on," said Chumbley in an email interview. "The Pacific Northwest lived up to its stereotype—community members are pretty engaged in environmental issues. And when we spoke to them about oil trains, I'd say 90 percent of the people we ran into were aware of the issue and had a strong opinion about it—either for or against."

The increase in oil-by-rail is due to the fracking boom and lack of pipeline infrastructure. In 2013, oil train accidents resulted in more than 1.15 million gallons of spilled oil, representing a 50-fold increase over the yearly average between 1975 and 2012. 

This week, in response to a recent train derailment and the extreme threat facing communities, three Seattle-area residents blockaded train tracks at an oil facility at Tesoro’s Anacortes Refinery and were arrested. The protestors were demanding an immediate end to all new oil-by-rail terminals proposed in the Northwest.

Even Seattle Mayor Ed Murray believes oil-by-rail is a huge public safety issue and is advocating for less oil and coal coming through his city. 

I asked Chumbley what his biggest takeaway was from filming this video and he said, "that proper regulation comes from relentlessness. The researchers, journalists and activists have to relentlessly pressure legislators, government agencies and other authorities to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the environment."

Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Ernest Moniz listens during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on October 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Isaac Brekken / Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit

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Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.

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Climate change can evoke intense feelings, but a conversational approach can help. Reed Kaestner / Getty Images

Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.

"It's easy to feel dwarfed in the context of such a global systemic issue," says psychologist Renée Lertzman.

She says that when people experience these feelings, they often shut down and push information away. So to encourage climate action, she advises not bombarding people with frightening facts.

"When we lead with information, we are actually unwittingly walking right into a situation that is set up to undermine our efforts," she says.

She says if you want to engage people on the topic, take a compassionate approach. Ask people what they know and want to learn. Then have a conversation.

This conversational approach may seem at odds with the urgency of the issue, but Lertzman says it can get results faster.

"When we take a compassion-based approach, we are actively disarming defenses so that people are actually more willing and able to respond and engage quicker," she says. "And we don't have time right now to mess around, and so I do actually come to this topic with a sense of urgency… We do not have time to not take this approach."

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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