17 minute interview of Marilaine Savard by Andrés Soto of KPFA Radio. Dramatic photos. Ms. Savard is the spokesperson for a citizens’ group in the region of Lac-Mégantic, Québec. Last year, a string of exploding petroleum rail cars destroyed the center of the town and claimed 47 lives….
Ms. Savard’s visit with us here in the Bay Area was sponsored by:
In partnership with: Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, ForestEthics, Pittsburg Defense Council, Pittsburg Ethics Council, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.
Lac-Mégantic mayor tells Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference about train explosion
Dave Stewart, February 13, 2014
There was no time to cry, no time to let the tragedy sink in — there was only time to help those that survived.
In the hours and days after a train derailment and explosion that killed more than 40 people last July, Colette Roy Laroche, mayor of Ville de Lac-Mégantic, Que., said there was too much to do.Laroche was one of four panelists at a conference in Charlottetown on Thursday entitled ‘Decision-making for Resilience: Finding the Path Forward and Minimizing Risk in Our Communities’. It was part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference and trade show.Just after midnight on July 6, 2013 an unattended freight train carrying crude oil derailed, resulting in a fire and explosion of multiple-tank cars. In addition to the dead, more than 30 buildings in the town’s centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed. It was the fourth deadliest rail accident in Canadian history.Suddenly, a town of 6,000 people became a major story on newscasts around the world.”I wasn’t prepared for that kind of media presence,” Laroche said through an interpreter. “We’re a town of 6,000 people. Everything is usually very quiet. We were overwhelmed by so many media. As the mayor, I didn’t have a lot of time to think.”
Even as she recounts the story today, Laroche remains calm, talking about phone service that was completely cut off and turning to the media to communicate with residents and to encourage them in the face of what had happened.
The local high school was transformed into a shelter for about 2,000 residents and for others to get information. Breakfast was served at the school at 7 a.m. following the initial explosions
More than 80 fire departments came to help fight the massive fire and the provincial government sent what help it could.
Laroche said more than 100 businesses in the downtown, that provide professional services, were relocated while 50 business, as a whole, were also moved.
Rebuilding the town is going to take a while, she said.
“We need three to five years before we can rebuild the area affected by the disaster,” Laroche said, noting that the total rebuild could take a decade.
Four condominiums in the area were turned into makeshift businesses with some opening in the next month or two.
Laroche said there is still so much to do. The town is now planning major consultations with residents.
“We need to involve our citizens. We need our people to find themselves (a part of) the reconstruction. Lac-Mégantic will never be what it was.”
Some residents want the town rebuilt as it was, others want a new image.
“Our citizens are beginning to realize it will be a very long process but we have a patient population. They are able to stand up and remain calm.”
Laroche said if there is a positive that came out of the tragedy it’s that it has brought the residents of the small Quebec town much closer together.
WASHINGTON Wary of a series of fiery train derailments elsewhere in North America, California officials are bracing for a huge increase in the amount of crude oil transported by rail into the state and the dangers it brings with it.
The state budget plan Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled this week bolsters the state Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, increasing its budget by $6.7 million and adding 38 staff members, “to address the increased risk of inland oil spills.”
The move comes as California’s Energy Commission projects that rail deliveries of crude oil could increase to as much of a quarter of the state’s total by 2016. In 2012, only 0.2 percent of the 598 million barrels of oil received by state refiners came by rail, according to the commission. Nearly two-thirds arrived by ocean-going vessels, and another third by pipeline.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which includes the oil spill unit, said the state is preparing for a shift in deliveries by more traditional modes to rail, and the risks associated with it.
“We’ve exceeded pipeline capacity, and that distribution is now shifting to rail,” he said. “In California, that change means we may see less of our oil coming in through marine terminals and more by rail into the state.”
The volume of crude oil shipped by rail has increased exponentially in just the past few years, and many state and federal agencies are scrambling to adjust their emergency response plans. Trains brought about 3 million barrels of oil to California last year. In two years, it could be 143 million.
Especially worrisome is oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region, which federal officials have come to believe is more flammable than the more conventional oils California produces or imports. And most of the railroad tank cars that carry it to California and other states have proved vulnerable to ruptures or punctures in a derailment.
In July, an unattended crude oil train derailed and exploded in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. A similar train derailed in Alabama in November, followed by another in North Dakota last month. Though both accidents resulted in spectacular fires and limited evacuations, no one was injured or killed.
The rail industry and its Washington regulators insist that railroads have a good safety record. The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, says 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipped by rail reach their destination without incident. The Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees the nation’s rail network, said 2012 was the industry’s safest year on record.
Initially, rail was a stopgap measure taken as proposed pipeline expansions encountered delays. But producers discovered its advantages. Though it costs more to ship by rail than by pipeline, it’s faster, has more capacity and can go pretty much anywhere pipelines don’t.
Crude oil is already moving into California by rail. BNSF Railway, the nation’s largest rail carrier of crude oil, now hauls entire trainloads from North Dakota to refineries in Richmond and Bakersfield. Though the shipments are infrequent, plans are in the works to enable six more locations in California to refine oil brought in by train or transfer it to ships or pipelines. If all are completed, five or six 80- to 100-car trains a day would supply about 25 percent of the state’s oil needs.
Bonham said the 245-member oil-spill unit is adapting to a shifting risk. To fund its expansion, the agency will begin collecting a fee of 6.5 cents a barrel to all crude oil shipped to refineries. Currently the fee only applies to marine shipments. Bonham predicts rail will largely displace tankers coming from Alaska or foreign countries.
The largest chemical spill in state history was the result of a rail accident. In July 1991, a Southern Pacific freight train derailed near the northern California town of Dunsmuir, with one tank car spilling 19,000 gallons of a pesticide into the Sacramento River. The toxic green chemical created a vapor cloud that made residents ill and killed a million fish in a 42-mile stretch of contaminated river.
One tank car can carry about 30,000 gallons of crude oil. Canadian authorities estimate that the train that derailed in Quebec spilled 1.5 million gallons, leaving an environmental catastrophe as well as a human one.
BNSF and Union Pacific, the state’s other major railroad, plan to increase their shipments of crude oil to the state in unit trains. Both railroads operate trains through downtown Sacramento and the state’s other major population centers and along its major waterways, creating new potential hazards for communities and the environment.
“It’s not going to be just one car,” said Tom Cullen, administrator of the state oil-spill unit. “We know it’s going to be more.”
California officials say they’ve dealt with large amounts of oil spilled from marine vessels and inland wells.
“We’re not going through this blindly,” Cullen said. “We appreciate what we’re taking on.”
What does worry them, however, is Bakken crude’s flammability.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last week warned that the oil is more hazardous than others and should be handled with extra care. The tendency of older, less protected tank cars to fail in derailments has compounded the concern. Some members of Congress and the rail industry are pushing regulators to move faster on new standards for tank car construction.