Trial by Fire: Lessons Not Learned One Year after Lac-Megantic

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Wed, Jul 02, 2014, 5:14 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

Train burning at Lac-Megantic. Source: Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Commentary on crude-by-rail proposals:

On July 7, 2013, 47 people died when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and tanker cars exploded in the heart of the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Next week (July 7-11, 2014) rail communities throughout North America will commemorate the one-year anniversary of that tragedy and stand in solidarity with what has become a Sister City to us all.  At the end of this article is a message from Lac-Megantic to her sisters.

In my article “Washington’s Crude Awakening” in the July issue of Whatcom Watch, I discuss the proposed crude by rail proposals in the Pacific Northwest and what they mean for Washington’s rail infrastructure and the safety of our towns and terrestrial and aquatic environments. Two of the refinery proposals, Tesoro Anacortes and BP Cherry Point, have completed their infrastructure. Phillips 66 anticipates completion by December 2014, and Shell Anacortes is in the permitting process.

If all area refinery crude-by-rail proposals were fully operational, 1.5 unit (fully-dedicated) crude trains would travel along the coast from Bow, up the coast, through Bellingham and Ferndale, bound for Cherry Point. Burlington and Mt. Vernon would experience 3.5 loaded trains per day. But if all of the crude-by-rail proposals proposed in Washington were approved, including new terminals, there could be 100 trains per week entering Washington passing through Spokane, bound for the Columbia River Valley moving toward proposed destinations.

The Skagit and Whatcom County refinery crude-by-rail proposals are but four of the now over 20 fossil fuel transportation proposals in the region that include coal, crude, and LPG. We are facing a perfect storm of corporate activity that will overwhelm infrastructure, threaten our container ports and aquaculture industries, and negatively impact our economy at a time when we should be investing in education and other identified priorities, but must shift funding to emergency response and cleanup functions that no industry is guaranteeing to indemnify.

Protection of our environment, economic viability of other industries, and our very lives would require significant policy shifts that no politician has yet expressed even an interest in tackling. The public is reduced to signing petitions, such as that from Forest Ethics, begging state officials to at least stop approving permits for proposals until we can fully assess risks and prepare for response. What no one is discussing is adequate mitigation measures, and shifting the costs associated with known risks to proponents of these activities in a way that would eliminate the need to litigate for decades after-the-fact in the event of a catastrophe as shippers, rail carriers, and destination facilities haggle over who bears what share of responsibility, and all blame the regulators. Not one city or county official in Whatcom County has spoken publicly about this issue.

For a full list of known actions around North America the week of July 7, click here. Below is a list of known activities in this region. 

Clark County

  • July 8, Vancouver, 12:00 Protest at the Department of Transportation, 11018 NE 51st Circle. Contact vancouveractionnetwork@gmail.com.
  • July 9, Vancouver, 12:00 Say No to Nustar Protest, 5420 Fruit Valley Road. Contact vancouveractionnetwork@gmail.com.
  • July 10, Vancouver, 6:00 p.m. No Explosive Oil Trains or Oil Port Rally, Esther Short Park, Corner of 8th and Esther Short. Contact vancouveractionnetwork@gmail.com.
  • July 11, Vancouver, 12:00 Protest at the Federal Railroad Administration, 500 Broadway, Suite 240. Contact vancouveractionnetwork@gmail.com.

Grays Harbor County

  • July 6, Aberdeen, 12:00 Honoring Those Lost, The 1855 Treaty and The Earth, Zelasko Park, F Street. Honor the Lac-Megantic victims; join with the Quinault, Quileute and Hoh Tribes as a week’s celebration of the July 1st anniversary of the Quinault River Treaty of 1855 culminates; and learn about Grays Harbor crude-by-rail proposals that will impact our Earth.

King County

  • July 12, Seattle, 11:00 No Oil Trains! ~ No Way! Rally, between piers 69 & 70, Seattle Waterfront, Alaskan Way and Clay Street. Hear speakers and musical performances.

Skagit County

  • July 7, Mt. Vernon, 5:15 p.m. Protect Skagit Lac-Megantic Memorial, Skagit Transit Center Plaza, 105 Kincaid St. Contact:  annewinkes@gmail.com. Meet at the plaza to join the march to the BNSF tracks and on to the Skagit County Courthouse for a remembrance of lives lost in Lac-Megantic.
  • July 8, Anacortes, 6:30 p.m. Risky Business: How Oil Transport Threatens Washington’s Health, Communities, and Waters forum, http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5168/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=71467, Senior Center, 1701 22nd St.  Contact Rein Atteman, rein@wecprotects.org, 206-631-2625.

Spokane County

  • July 8, Spokane, 12:00 Demand Safer Railcars rally, Spokane office, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, N. 10 Post. Contact Spokane Rising Tide, sport509@outlook.com.

Thurston County

  • July 11, Olympia, 4:00 p.m. Oly Against Oil Rails, Tivoli Fountain, 1300 Capitol Way S. Contact atj31660@gmail.com.

Whatcom County

  • July 6, Bellingham, 2:00 p.m. Honoring the Victims of Lac-Megantic, https://www.facebook.com/events/652517814832742/, Taylor Street Dock, Boulevard Park. Contact 350bellingham@gmail.com. Take a group photo on the dock near the bathrooms, over the tracks, with a memorial which will include 47 silhouettes with stories of Lac-Megantic victims. The memorial will be publicly installed later.
  • July 10, Bellingham, 7:00 p.m. planning meeting for BP North Pier DEIS Hearing and Action, Sustainable Living Center, 2309 Meridian St. Contact Thomas.meyer@350.org, 360-460-7397. Learn how to comment during the July 16 public hearing conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the NEPA DEIS and hear about the rally planned before the hearing.

Oregon

  • July 3-6, Portland, 10:00 a.m. No Oil Trains Portland will message outside the Waterfront Blues Festival, including candlelight vigils on July 5th and 6th. For information about specific activities, contact Bonnie at 503-705-1943. Update 7/3/14: Meetup times have changed. For information, call Bonnie.
  • July 8, Salem, 4:30 p.m. No Oil Trains in Salem, 12th Street Promenade next to the tracks, 12th St. and State Street. Contact lauriedougherty@gmail.com.

Message from the Citizens of Lac-Megantic:

"The people of Lac Megantic and its environs are well aware of the dangers of transporting North Dakota crude by rail. The tragedy that we have suffered is very well known.

"We strongly support the solidarity actions that will take place in many states in the United States and in Canadian provinces that will highlight the commemoration of the terrible tragedy that took place in Lac Megantic following the derailment of the MMA train 606 282.

"We hope that the communities that organize the resistance and the municipal councils of Vancouver, Spokane, Edmonds, Bellingham and other concerned cities will be understood and their fears be taken into consideration so that a moratorium will be imposed on such practices so that the health, well-being and security of the population and environment will be protected."

Traduction by Dan Leahy.

Tank cars after Lac-Megantic fire. Source: Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Terry Wechsler  //  Sat, Jul 05, 2014, 2:35 pm

Mitigation 1, discussed above:  Assign liability among shippers, carriers, and destination facilities and require them to indemnify the risks associated with their activities.
Mitigation 2:  Require degassing before shipment. Removal of natural gas liquids (NGLs) is costly, but that sounds like a personal problem. + Link
Mitigation 3: Make BNSF apply the same safety measures to transport of hazardous materials it does to passenger. EX: The 48-Hour Rule.


John Servais  //  Sun, Jul 06, 2014, 1:03 pm

We as a community are perhaps more vulnerable to this sort of fiery accident than most places.  The railroad tracks along Chuckanut are some of the most intensely maintained in the nation.  They are subject to constant rock falls and other hazards.  BNSF runs a check car up the tracks several times a day - more often in the winter wet season when there are more rock falls.  A fiery accident along those 10 miles would terribly scar one of our natural local treasures. 

Also the tracks along Chuckanut and the Bellingham waterfront are full of curves, making for greater risk of derailments.  One of the reasons the long coal trains have a pusher diesel engine at the end is to prevent the heavy back cars from tumbling off the inside of a curve.  A fiery derailment along our Bellingham waterfront could be just what we see in this photo.

If the BNSF says this fear is unfounded, then let them set up insurance for full restitution plus punitive for every accident - with no cap at the top.  Let them bond that insurance so we know.  Let it be an iron clad legal process.  Of course they will not.  They know the risks.  They go through many towns and know some will be hit with accidents - most small but some large. 

Thanks Terry for the fine article.  We need to be strongly reminded of what our future may have for us if we lose the fight to stop the Bakken oil from rumbling through our town on trains.

More concerned citizens will hopefully get involved.  The article shows some ways to do so.


Tip Johnson  //  Sun, Jul 06, 2014, 3:48 pm

Why does tar sand oil tend to blow up?  Because they mix it with explosive volatile substances called diluents.
+ Link

Why does Bakken Oil blow up?  Because it is super light, volatile and explosive enough to be used as diluent.
+ Link

Would anyone permit you haul a mile long pipe bomb with three million gallons of explosives through the middle of town?  That’s only for a special kind of ‘person’.  Regular people are not even allowed to have firecrackers.  There is no bomb squad equipped to disarm these, much less control them after they ignite.  This means not only whole towns, but natural treasures like Chuckanut Mountain, Samish and Padilla Bays, etc., are completely at risk with no hope of intervention when an accident occurs.  But maybe it can’t happen here?

I guess that’s a cost of doing business.  Unfortunately, only the ‘persons’ benefit while the people pay.


Terry Wechsler  //  Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 8:55 am

Wouldn’t you think folks living in Edgemoor, on Chuckanut, Eldridge Ave., etc., would be a bit more up in arms?

Fun new interactive map here to see if you’re in the blast radius:  + Link


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