"The lack of immediate action to prevent spills is unconscionable"

In the face of a dramatic spike in the amount of oil transported by rail and a series of fiery derailments, the US Department of Transportation has revealed that most emergency response organizations won’t have enough resources or trained personnel to contain a large oil spill or fire that could result from the more than one billion of gallons of crude oil now being shipped by rail every year.

A guide for emergency response to oil train derailments released by DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration states that: “In the event of an incident that may involve the release of thousands of gallons of product and ignition of tank cars of crude oil in a unit train, most emergency response organizations will not have the available resources, capabilities or trained personnel to safely and effectively extinguish a fire or contain a spill of this magnitude.”

Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species, commented: “It’s stunning to see the federal government admit that no one’s prepared to handle these kinds of accidents — and yet the DOT has stood by and allowed rail transport of oil to increase drastically in the past few years.

“The DOT is continuing to allow tank cars that are known to puncture during accidents to be used to ship crude through our communities, even though the agency’s keenly aware that responders simply aren’t capable of adequately protecting people and the environment during the inevitable derailments.”  

DOT’s admission supports comments recently filed by the Center calling for the agency to immediately ban the puncture-prone tank cars that have already been involved in several explosive accidents, as well as to require comprehensive oil-spill response plans for oil trains that would require oil shippers to ensure that adequate personnel and equipment are available to respond to a worst-case spill event.

“These spills continue to pose completely unacceptable threats to people and drinking water supplies, as well as to wildlife, including endangered species,” added Margolis. “DOT knows that responders are not prepared, and the lack of immediate action to prevent spills is unconscionable.”