Credit: creativecommons.org/Jeremy Jannene

Moratorium Sought On Rail Transport Of Explosive Bakken Oil

In the wake of two explosive derailments in the past two weeks involving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and western Canada, the Center for Biological Diversity is calling for a moratorium on rail transport of the hazardous oil in the north east United States.

The group has sent a letter to members of the New York and Vermont congressional delegations, and to the leadership of rail safety subcommittees in Congress, urging federal intervention.

The problem of derailments first garnered widespread public attention in summer 2013 when a runaway train transporting 72 tankers of Bakken crude careened into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people, incinerating the downtown and spilling roughly 1.6 million gallons of crude oil, some of which reached the lake that serves as the focal point for this once-popular tourist town.

“Every day trains with tens of thousands of barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude are rumbling through small towns in upstate New York, endangering people, rivers, wetlands and wildlife,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center’s north east office in Richmond, Vermont.

“In just two years Albany has become a major nexus for Bakken oil shipment in the north east. We can’t afford to wait for another train wreck before a thorough review provides assurances that these shipments are safe.”

On December 30, 2013, a train transporting Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded near Casselton, North Dakota, prompting an evacuation of residents within five miles of the accident. And earlier this week, a 122-car train carrying Bakken crude derailed and caught fire near Plaster Rock in New Brunswick, prompting evacuation of the town.

Trains are now converging on Albany and the Hudson River Valley from the north as well as west-east rail lines, bearing the same incendiary crude that has been involved in a total of five major rail accidents since summer 2013. Plans are in the works to further escalate the amount of Bakken crude moving through upstate New York, as Albany and the Hudson River corridor become a major transportation funnel for oil shipped from the western United States and Canada to East Coast refineries. 

“A massive increase in rail shipment of oil through the north east has occurred with no public scrutiny to ensure our safety or protect the environment,” added Matteson. “A moratorium is needed until a careful review can ensure safety measures are in place to avoid another tragic accident.”