Lynchburg Oil Train Explosion Refuels Rail-Terminal Opposition in Northwest
As yet another train carrying Bakken crude exploded, this one outside Lynchburg, Virginia, the Quinault Indian Nation in the Northwest sounded the alarm once again amid hearings on proposals to build oil-train terminals near the tribe’s territory.
Just one day after 175 people packed a public hearing in Centralia, Washington, over one of the terminal proposals, 13 cars of a 105-car train carrying crude from the Bakken oil fields derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia. No one in the 77,000-population city was hurt, but Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp did not waste an opportunity to draw attention to the perils of this type of shipping.
“What more proof do you need that oil trains are not safe, not wanted and have no place in western Washington?” Sharp said in a statement.
The Lynchburg explosion sent shoppers, office workers and residents scrambling to evacuate a 20-block area in a city just 200 miles from Washington, D.C. A few hours later, as The New York Times noted, the U.S. Transportation Department said that a “long-awaited package of rules aimed at improving the safety of oil transport by rail had been sent Wednesday night to the White House for review.”
Besides sending flames and a towering plume of dense black smoke skyward, some of the burning cars tipped into the James River, which is adjacent to the tracks. In all, 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of oil escaped, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management told the Associated Press, though it wasn’t clear how much had burned and how much had entered the river.
There have been several explosions of trains carrying crude from the Bakken oil fields to rail terminals or refineries hundreds or thousands of miles away. The most tragic was the wreck of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that broke free of its brakes and rammed into the center of 6,000-population Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last July, killing 47 people.
Since then there have been several others, though without fatalities.
The Quinault have been raising the alarm for months about proposals to ship oil by rail to the Northwest for transport overseas, and even the federal government has found Bakken oil to be more flammable than regular crude.
Besides the danger to ecosystems and sacred places, the transport of oil through the region could endanger the tourism and fisheries industries, Sharp pointed out.
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