Martinez Environmental Group: It’s happened again & again

Repost from The Martinez News-Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: It’s happened again & again

By Guy Cooper, February 22, 2015

Two more oil train wrecks in the space of two days.

On Saturday, Feb. 14, a 100-car train carrying diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta derailed in a remote area of northern Ontario, Canada. Fifteen cars dumped their cargo, and seven burned. Emergency responders have to wait for the flammable components to burn off before even beginning to clean up the mess. Toxic solids have blackened the snow and contaminated the soil. Ash deposits on the forest are expected to result in a widespread tree die off. Tar sands are poised to poison water ways the locals depend upon. Clean up is expected to take some time, but the rail line was repaired and open for business within four days.

The cause of the derailment has yet to be determined. The tanker cars were the newly upgraded CPC1232s designed to resist the catastrophic failures of the old DOT111s. Both the train and the tracks had passed safety inspections shortly before the accident. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Then two days later a 100-car train full of volatile Bakken crude derailed, ruptured and exploded in huge fireballs on the banks of a river between the small towns of Powelltown Hollow and Boomer, West Virginia. One house was incinerated. Oil laden cars rolled into the water, just upstream from intakes to the local water treatment plant, which was urgently shut down to avoid any toxic contamination. Evacuations ensued. Some reportedly ran for their lives from under the towering orange/black mushroom clouds, barefoot through the snow that was blanketing the area at the time. All the fire fighters could do was watch it burn. It’s still burning two days later. Miraculously, the only injury was to the owner of the house that was destroyed, he having suffered from inhalation.

Again, the cause of the accident is yet to be determined. Again, the train and the tracks had just passed safety inspections. Again, the tanker cars were the newer, supposedly more robust CPC1232s. And again, I suspect the railroad will quickly get that line ready to resume carrying oil trains.

How often does this have to happen before the federal government puts a stop to it? The West Virginia incident occurred on the same line, en route to the same destination as a train that derailed, exploded and spilled toxic crude from the same “improved” tankers into the James River at Lynchburg, Virginia, just last April. Meanwhile, federal regulators continue to tangle over tighter restrictions with oil industry and rail company reps who are themselves at odds over who should be financially responsible for ensuring safe transport of these fuel stocks. The whole process is estimated to enfold over the next 20 years.

Twenty years! At the rate we’re piling up oil train catastrophes, I suggest Martinez doesn’t have 20 years. The odds are not looking good. I remind you that we already have one of these 100-car bomb trains traversing the Alhambra trestle about once a week. If all the refineries have their way, we could see a further five or six of these oil laden trains rolling through our downtown on the Union Pacific tracks every week by next year. It is not OK to continue business as usual until such time someone might devise a safer strategy and figure out who’s going to pay for it. It’s time to stop. Now.

P.S. – According to Christin Ayers of KPIX (Feb. 18, 2015), Kinder Morgan stopped receiving Bakken bomber trains the end of November due to the drop in oil prices. This information apparently came from the Richmond fire chief. He does not expect this market-driven cessation to be permanent and is still seeking additional funding for needed firefighter training related to potential oil train emergencies. So for now Martinez is safe, but not forever. Efforts must continue at the federal, state and local levels to prevent the resumption of this dangerous oil train traffic through our communities.