As yet another train carrying Bakken crude exploded, this one outside Lynchburg, Virginia, the Quinault Indian Nation in the Northwest sounded the alarm once again amid hearings on proposals to build oil-train terminals near the tribe’s territory.
Just one day after 175 people packed a public hearing in Centralia, Washington, over one of the terminal proposals, 13 cars of a 105-car train carrying crude from the Bakken oil fields derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia. No one in the 77,000-population city was hurt, but Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp did not waste an opportunity to draw attention to the perils of this type of shipping.
“What more proof do you need that oil trains are not safe, not wanted and have no place in western Washington?” Sharp said in a statement.
The Lynchburg explosion sent shoppers, office workers and residents scrambling to evacuate a 20-block area in a city just 200 miles from Washington, D.C. A few hours later, as The New York Times noted, the U.S. Transportation Department said that a “long-awaited package of rules aimed at improving the safety of oil transport by rail had been sent Wednesday night to the White House for review.”
Besides sending flames and a towering plume of dense black smoke skyward, some of the burning cars tipped into the James River, which is adjacent to the tracks. In all, 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of oil escaped, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management told the Associated Press, though it wasn’t clear how much had burned and how much had entered the river.
There have been several explosions of trains carrying crude from the Bakken oil fields to rail terminals or refineries hundreds or thousands of miles away. The most tragic was the wreck of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that broke free of its brakes and rammed into the center of 6,000-population Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last July, killing 47 people.
Since then there have been several others, though without fatalities.
The Quinault have been raising the alarm for months about proposals to ship oil by rail to the Northwest for transport overseas, and even the federal government has found Bakken oil to be more flammable than regular crude.
Besides the danger to ecosystems and sacred places, the transport of oil through the region could endanger the tourism and fisheries industries, Sharp pointed out.
“Consider the number of jobs that are dependent on health fish and wildlife,” she said. “The birdlife in Grays Harbor alone attracts thousands of tourists every year. Fishing and clamming attract thousands more.”
Shipments of crude oil by railway have increased throughout the United States from 10,000 carloads in 2008 to upwards of 400,000 in 2013, according to E&E News. In Washington State, the company U.S. Development Group is looking to build an oil terminal in the port of Grays Harbor on the Washington State coast that would ship 45,000 barrels of crude oil a day, the Associated Press reported on April 10. The $80 million proposal is just one of several proposals that would enable the rail transport of millions of barrels of oil from the Bakken oil sands in North Dakota and Montana, the AP said.
“We oppose all of these for both economic and environmental reasons,” Sharp said in a statement on April 22.
Dovetailing with concerns over the substances being shipped are worries about the infrastructure that would be used. Sharp noted the derailment of a grain train in Aberdeen, Washington, that spilled tons of its cargo.
“We all thanked God that grain wasn’t oil. It very well could have been oil,” said Sharp in the Quinault statement after the Lynchburg explosion.
“Let’s face it,” she continued. “Our region is in danger. Our lands, our waters, our air, our livelihoods and even our lives are in danger because oil tycoons want to make more money and they don’t care who they hurt to get it. The crashes that have taken place in Virginia, Quebec, North Dakota and other places should send a message to people, loud and clear. If you value your land, your water, your lifestyle and even the safety of your children, it is time to get involved and say no to Big Oil.”