Tag Archives: Chaudière River

A looming disaster – Crude oil running on Butte County’s railways poses a threat to local, state watersheds

Repost from the Chico News & Review

A looming disaster – Crude oil running on Butte County’s railways poses a threat to local, state watersheds

By Dave Garcia, 03.10.16
DAVE GARCIA. The author, a longtime Oroville resident, is the spokesman for Frack-Free Butte County.

Scientists have found unprecedented levels of fish deformities in Canada’s Chaudière River following the Lac-Mégantic Bakken crude oil spill in 2013. This catastrophic train derailment, which killed 47 people and ravaged parts of the small town in Quebec, underscores the danger of spilled toxic crude oil getting into our waterways and affecting living organisms.

I find the Canadian government’s report very distressing—even for Butte County. That’s because, just last week, I observed a train of 97 railcars loaded with crude oil traveling through the Feather River Canyon and downtown Oroville.

The California Public Utilities Commission has designated this rail route as high risk because of its sharp curves and steep grade; it travels next to the Feather River, which feeds into Lake Oroville, an integral part of California’s domestic water supply.

If you think that railway shipping is safe, think back to 2014. That’s the year 14 railcars derailed, falling down into the canyon and spilling their loads of grain into the Feather River. The last thing we need, especially in a time of drought, is crude oil poisoning the water of our second-largest reservoir.

In 2010, it took over $1 billion to clean up the Kalamazoo River crude oil spill. But you can never really clean up a crude oil spill in pristine freshwater, as the deformed fish from the Chaudière River reveal.

Keeping crude-oil-carrying railcars on the state’s tracks is simply not worth it. Less than 1 percent of California’s imported oil is transported by railway. Californians receive little benefit, but bear the risks to their communities and watersheds from this practice.

Since Lac-Mégantic, there have been nine more crude oil derailments, explosions and spills into waterways. We need to learn a lesson from those catastrophes. We must convey to our politicians—local, state and federal—our priority of protecting our communities, fisheries and waterways. Let’s not let what happened in Quebec happen in Butte County.

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    Fish deformities spiked after Lac-Mégantic oil spill, report says

    Repost from The Star, Toronto, ONT

    Fish deformities spiked after Lac-Mégantic oil spill, report says

    Scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike in the fish deformations in the wake of the deadly 2013 train derailment and oil spill in Lac-Mégantic, Que
    Workers tend to an absorbent boom on the Chaudiere River near Lac-Megantic, Que. About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the river after the 2013 train derailment and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed.
    Workers tend to an absorbent boom on the Chaudiere River near Lac-Megantic, Que. About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the river after the 2013 train derailment and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed. MICHEL HUNEAULT

    By Allan Woods, Wed Feb 10 2016

    MONTREAL—Scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike in the fish deformities in the wake of the deadly 2013 train derailment and oil spill in Lac-Mégantic, Que., according to a provincial government report.

    The report into the effects of the disaster on the 185-km-long Chaudière River, which begins in Lac Mégantic, found that in some parts of the river as many as 47 per cent of the fish they collected had an external deformation.

    The rate of deformations greatly surpassed that recorded in a similar fish population study in 1994. The study also found a “marked drop” in the river’s fish biomass, or total weight.

    “There is no hypothesis other than the oil spill of July 6, 2013 that can explain these results,” says the report, which got little attention when it was released last November. It was brought to wider attention Wednesday when resurrected by Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper.

    The derailment and ensuing explosion, in which 47 people were killed, decimated the picturesque small town in eastern Quebec and turned its downtown strip and waterfront into an oil-soaked wasteland.

    Workers drag an oil boom on Lac-Mégantic Tuesday afternoon following the massive derailment.
    Workers drag an oil boom on Lac-Mégantic Tuesday afternoon following the massive derailment. LUCAS OLENIUK

    The 72-car train was carrying nearly 8-million litres of highly combustible crude oil that was bound for a refinery in New Brunswick. An engine fire that occurred when the train was left unattended on the main tracks about 11 km from Lac-Mégantic resulted in the air brakes failing and the unattended train hurtling into town. It derailed near a popular bar, the site where most of the dead were found.

    About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed. The expert committee’s report said there are some encouraging signs that the worst contamination is limited to the first 10 km of the river, whereas traces were found some 80 km away in testing conducted right after the incident.

    About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River.
    About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River. STEEVE DUGUAY

    But a whole ecosystem has been affected. The insects, worms and other organisms that live on the sediment and upon which fish feed were affected by the oil spill but are showing signs of recovery after testing conducted in 2014.

    Crude oil coming to rest on the riverbed can prevent fish from accessing food and can result in the death of fish eggs or embryos. The population drop could also be attributable to other factors such as more active predators or lower reproduction rates, the report noted.

    But the contaminated sediment is the most likely explanation for the alarmingly high rate of external deformities recorded among the sample of 900 fish collected for study. The most common problems were lesions and infection-induced breakdown of the fins, which can occur when a fish comes into direct contact with the sediment, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria, fungus and parasites that eat away at the tissue.

    Among the more common deformities found in fish taken from the Chaudière River was the erosion of the fins, which can occur after a fish comes into direct contact with contaminated sediment.
    Among the more common deformities found in fish taken from the Chaudière River was the erosion of the fins, which can occur after a fish comes into direct contact with contaminated sediment.

    The widely held standard is that if more than five per cent of fish in the sample show signs of external deformities, the habitat is considered to be contaminated by toxic substances.

    Perhaps as a result, fish populations are estimated to be 66 per cent smaller and the biomass — the total weight of the fish stock — is down 48 per cent.

    “The weak biomass observed in 2014 is difficult to attribute to anything other than the oil spill,” the report concluded.

    Scientists have now set their sights on a longer-term monitoring plan and a fish-population survey they hope to carry out in 2016. One of the things they will be looking for are skeletal malformations — a widely recognized consequence of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons.

    Their interest in this stems from a laboratory study in which the eggs of two types of fish — the fathead minnow and the brown trout — were exposed to contaminated sediment from the oil spill.

    The exposure had no effect on mortality rates or the time it took for the eggs to hatch. But the eggs of the brown trout that were exposed to the most contaminated sediment showed a higher rate of scoliosis, an abnormal lateral curvature of the spinal column.

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