Quantcast
Energy

Oil Train Disaster Anniversary Kicks Off Week of Action and 'Blast Zone' Mapping Tool

On July 6, 2013, one year ago yesterday, a train carrying oil derailed in the sleepy Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, resulting in an explosion so wild and so hot it leveled several city blocks and incinerated the bodies of many of its 47 victims.

First responders at the site of the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Photo credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada

The accident put the tiny town on the international media circuit and dragged a new social concern with it: oil trains. Whether you call them oil trains, tanker trains or bomb trains, chances are you didn’t call them anything at all before that day last year.

Before the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic, several smaller tanker train accidents across North America had already raised alarm over the danger of transporting oil and other fuels by rail in small communities with tracks often running through city centres and residential areas.

In the wake of Lac-Mégantic, however, critics, environmental organizations, journalists and concerned communities began tracking the growing movement of volatile oil shipments across the continent.

Keeping pace with oil transport

Overall shipments of oil by rail have increased by 28,000 percent since 2009.

In 2012 nearly 40,000 barrels of oil were shipped to the U.S. each day, although surging oil production in the Bakken Shale has simultaneously led to an increase of oil by rail shipments of crude north of the border.

In 2013 oil train accidents resulted in more than 1.15 million gallons of spilled oil. This represents a 50-fold increase over the yearly average between 1975 and 2012.

According to some, the surge in rail transport of petroleum products has outpaced regulatory oversight. Lax oversight may have contributed to the devastation at Lac-Mégantic, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

In an October 2013 report, author Bruce Campbell, the CCPA’s executive director, wrote, “In my view, the evidence points to a fundamentally flawed regulatory system, cost-cutting corporate behavior that jeopardized public safety and the environment, and responsibility extending to the highest levels of corporate management and government policy making.”

According to Transport Safety Board of Canada data, accidents involving dangerous goods have increased since last year.

Screen shot of TSB Canada data complied by CTV News.

Poor Tank Design, Poorer Response Plan

According to CN Rail chief executive Claude Monegau, poor tank car design was “one of the most important systematic issues” leading to the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. Earlier this year a Canadian government-commissioned rail safety group said more needed to be done to ensure the safety of oil tanker cars carrying crude through communities.

Since then the government has implemented a plan to upgrade or retire generic oil tanker cars, known as DOT-111s. In February there were roughly 228,000 DOT-111 cars in operation across North American and 92,000 of those were carrying flammable liquids.

Civil engineering expert and professor Roza Galvez-Cloutier, who examined the derailment in Lac-Mégantic, recently said no appropriate plans or equipment are in place to prevent a similar situation from recurring in Canada.

Read page 1

“There was an evident lack of preparation at all levels,” Galvez-Cloutier said recently in a Science Media Centre of Canada webinar reviewing the events at Lac-Mégantic. “Prevention measures, preparedness and emergency plans need to urgently be updated.”

Aerial view of charred freight train following the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Photo credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada

“I think there was a panic and there was a lack of co-ordination,” she said.

At the time of the incident, firefighters were cooling oil tankers without having subdued the fire, Galvez-Cloutier recounted, adding the emergency response personnel did not know what the composition of the burning oil was.

Had they known, it’s likely they would have responded more appropriately to the fire, Galvez-Cloutier said, using foam suppressants, for example.

“I know that Ultramar brought in, as a last resort, some foam to assist, but this was based on their goodwill, not a pre-planned emergency measure,” she said.

Grassroots Groups Respond

In a week of action, grassroots organizations and concerned citizens are calling for oil to be kept off the rails and in the ground.

The increase in oil tanker accidents led a coalition of environmental organizations to create an Oil by Rail Week of Action between July 6 and 13. The coalition includes ForestEthics, Oil Change International, 350.org and the Sierra Club.

Today, the groups plan to launch a "blast zone" website which will make communities along oil tanker routes searchable by address.

Eddie Scher, spokesperson for ForestEthics, said the website brings together rail industry data and Google maps to make evacuations zones visible.

“It allows you to plug in your address and see where you sit in relation to this Google map blast zone,” Scher told DeSmog Canada by phone.

“And what you find, which isn’t that surprising, is that these trains—mile long trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil—go right through the center of almost very major city in U.S.”

“Our rail system was designed to carry goods, not carry hazardous materials through city centers,” Scher said.

Major cities including L.A., Oakland and Chicago have oil trains running through them.

The database, which is searchable for both U.S. and Canadian addresses, is designed to bring information about oil train transport to the public, something Scher says should already be available to the communities along rail transport lines.

“It’s pretty outrageous that we’re the ones to have to do this. We’re happy that emergency responders have this information but everyone should know what’s going on.”

“We’re working on the numbers right now, but it’s easy to say with the information we have that 10 of millions of Americans live in that blast zone,” Scher said.

“The amount of the populations that is threatened is huge. What we’re really trying to do is to let folks see what is going on.”

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular

12 Great Summertime Reads

Summer is a time for escape reading. But that designation need not be limited to fiction; books written for the general reader on topics outside one's area of expertise can also provide passage to exciting new places. This month's bookshelf includes six non-fiction titles, five novels and one collection of short stories. The last three titles are now in paperback, suitable for a vacation or some beach time. Good reading to you!

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

Cosmos Offers Clues to the Fate of Humans on Earth

By Marlene Cimons

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees climate change through a cosmic lens. He believes our present civilization isn't the first to burn up its resources—and won't be the last. Moreover, he thinks it's possible the same burnout fate already might have befallen alien worlds. That's why he says the current conversation about climate change is all wrong. "We shouldn't be talking about saving the planet, because the Earth will go on without us," he said. "We should be talking about saving ourselves."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Chicago skyline on April 20, 2017. Chris Favero / CC BY-SA 2.0

Big Cities, Bright Lights: Ranking the Worst Light Pollution on Earth

By Dipika Kadaba

The amount of artificial lighting is steadily increasing every year around the planet. It's a cause for celebration in remote villages in Africa and the Indian sub-continent that recently gained access to electricity for the first time, but it is also harming the health and well-being of residents of megacities elsewhere that continue to get bigger and brighter every year.

Health impacts of this artificial illumination after daylight hours range from depression to cancer, including a range of sleep disorders.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
velkr0 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Texas Supreme Court Rules Cities Cannot Ban Plastic Bags

The Texas Supreme Court struck down the city of Laredo's plastic bag ban—a decision that will likely overturn similar bans in about a dozen other cities, including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Ryan Zinke visits Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota on May 25. Sherman Hogue / U.S. Dept. of the Interior

Report: Trump Admin. Suppressing Media Access of Government Scientists

A new Trump administration protocol requires U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists to run interview requests with the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to journalists, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The move is a departure from past media practices that allowed government scientists to quickly respond to journalists' inquiries, according to unnamed USGS employees interviewed by the Times.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Icebergs calving from an ice shelf in West Antarctica. NASA / GSFC / Jefferson Beck / CC BY-SA 2.0

Good News From Antarctica: Rising Bedrock Could Save Vulnerable Ice Sheet

After last week's disturbing news that ice melt in Antarctica has tripled in the last five years, another study published Thursday offers some surprising good news for the South Pole and its vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The study, published in Science by an international research team, found that the bedrock below the WAIS is rising, a process known as "uplift," at record rates as melting ice removes weight, potentially stabilizing the ice sheet that scientists feared would be lost to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO
Soybeans with cupped leaves, a symptom of dicamba injury. University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Dicamba Damage Roars Back for Third Season in a Row

University weed scientists have reported roughly 383,000 acres of soybean injured by a weedkiller called dicamba so far in 2018, according to University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley.

Dicamba destroys mostly everything in its path except the crops that are genetically engineered (GE) to resist it. The drift-prone chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-target fields. Plants exposed to the chemical are left wrinkled, cupped or stunted in growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Memphis Meats

FDA Takes First Steps to Regulating Lab-Grown Meat

By Dan Nosowitz

Lab-grown meat—also known as cultured meat or in vitro meat—has long been enticing for its potential environmental, social and economic benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!