On December 30th, just outside of Casselton, North Dakota, a train carrying tank cares of Bakken crude oil exploded. Though I still haven’t figure out what is more scary, the images of flames and smoke so unreal looking that only Hollywoood has come close previously, or the fact that news like this is becoming more regular, one thing I know for sure is that the dialogue over transporting crude oil has reached a level I never could have imagined. Below is a rundown of some of what you might have missed over the last week or so.First however is the “why” you should care about this.
As is stated on our “Oil-by-Rail” page on our website (which I realize now is horribly outdated, but it works), oil companies want to ship massive quantities of crude oil to Oregon and Washington ports and refineries, putting Spokane and the Spokane River once again in the unfortunate crosshairs of dirty energy. That train that exploded in North Dakota was traveling east. However if it was traveling our direction, it would have been maybe a half dozen hours or so from Montana. No more than a day’s time from downtown Spokane.
There are currently upwards to a dozen proposals for new ports or transit terminals on the west coast, facilities that would handle incoming Bakken crude oil from North Dakota that is destined for refineries up and down the west coast. All of that Bakken crude would travel through Spokane. Like with proposed coal export projects, the shipping of dirty crude oil through Spokane would leave Spokane and the Spokane River with all of the risks.
You can read Sightline Institute’s The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails for a comprehensive, region-wide review of all the oil-by-rail projects planned or currently operating in the Northwest.
Casselton, North Dakota could have very well been Spokane, Washington. Or even scarier, it COULD be.
Here is the rundown of the news in case you’ve missed it. And for the record, this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive update, just news bits I found interesting and share worth.
News of the accident started breaking in the early afternoon. Here’s a good recap of some of the images and video captured from various sources across various platforms that was compiled by Business Insider - http://www.businessinsider.com/casselton-north-dakota-train-derailment-2013-12
News of the accident ended up on the front page of the Spokesman Review’s website, the Huffington post, the New York Times and more.
After the accident, due to the smoke in the air and the risk to residents in nearby Casselton, residents were evacuated. That evacuation wasn’t lifted until December 31st: http://abcnews.go.com/US/casselton-residents-urged-evacuate-oil-train-collision/story?id=21376966
Mark Ruffalo and Scott Smith discuss exploding oil trains in this must watch YouTube video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUEieToUeNg
In possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in the whole oil by rail debate to date, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on January 2nd issued an alert to, “notify the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.” http://www.valleynewslive.com/story/24350419/safety-alert-on-bakken-crude-issued-after-casselton-derailment
My friend and colleague John Wathen, the Hurricane Creekkeeper from Alabama started this website to keep people up to date on the Bakken oil issue. John was on the first plane he could hop from Alabama to North Dakota to photo and video document the oil train explosion, as he was when an oil train derailed in Aliceville, Alabama. In my opinion, John is one of the most important people in the world shedding light on the reality of this mess. Here’s that website, which is a work in progress - http://bakkendebate.blogspot.com/
Similarly, this Facebook page, “Bomb Trains”, popped up around the same time. This page is based out of Spokane and is a great resource. - https://www.facebook.com/BombTrains
The Spokesman-Review editorializes that better regulation is needed http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/jan/05/editorial-oil-train-regulation-going-off-the-rails/#comments
Meanwhile, the DeSmogBlog got real deep on just what is in crude oil - http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/01/05/exclusive-permit-shows-bakken-oil-casselton-train-contained-high-levels-volatile-chemicals
Though not related to the North Dakota derailment, this piece on the cost of the cleanup of the the deadly oil trian derailment Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed 47 people shows just how crazy this oil shipping scheme is.
The train derailment and explosions in Lac-Magantic, Quebec, Casselton, North Dakota and Aliceville, Alabama, the pipeline breach along the Kalamazoo River in 2010, and the grounding of the Exxon-Valdez tanker in 1989 are reminders that accidents happen and have devastating consequences when it comes to transporting oil. One Riverkeeper supporter said it best at a recent public hearing in Spokane over the proposed Tesoro Savage oil transit terminal in Vancouver, WA, “sending exploding oil trains through Spokane is a sure way to redevelop our motto from “Near Nature, Near Perfect” to “Near Nature, Near Disaster”