Are you or your loved ones in the Oil Train Blast Zone?

Yes, oil-by-rail, the gift that keeps on giving.

Thanks to your efforts to curtail crude- and tar-oil pipelines, the greedy carbon industry is increasingly resorting to train travel to move toxic crude around the country. Risky? You bet.

Let’s start with this, from the valuable Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog — but don’t forget to read on. Are you in the path of these spill-ready trains? There’s a handy tool just below.

Industry Data Show Oil-By-Rail in North America at Record Levels

On July 3, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) released June 2014 data showing oil-by-rail and petroleum products at-large are moving at record levels throughout North America.

The release of the data comes on the heels of the ongoing oil-by-rail nationwide week of action launched by environmental groups.

For the 26th week of 2014 (the half year point) in the U.S., 18.5% more tank cars were on the tracks carrying petroleum and/or petroleum products than last year, a total of 15,894 cars.

Examined on a year-to-date basis, 7.0% more of those same tank cars were on the tracks in the U.S. this year than last, totaling 380,961 cars to date.

15,000 tank cars per week is a lot of crude rolling around the country. And it’s almost the whole country we’re talking about. Is there one near you? Let’s see.

A handy tool — are you in a blast- and spill-zone?

To see the crude-by-rail map for the whole country (and parts of Canada), click here and scroll down. You can also use that page as a tool to see how spill-ready your neighborhood is. For example, I entered “Minneapolis, MN” in the search box and this is what I found.

Crude oil by rail

Blast and spill zone for downtown Minneapolis. Red is the evacuation zone. Yellow the fire-impact zone.

If I lived in downtown Minneapolis, I’m not far, am I. And in the case of fire and toxic fumes, a lot depends on where the wind is blowing that day — and how asthmatic I am.

You can enter a street address as well, or just a zip code. Me, I’m six block away from a close encounter, so close I can see it from my window. Yikes; didn’t know that. How close are you to too many emissions at once?

Oil train traffic has increased by more than 4,000 percent in the past five years

Here’s another look at the extent of the problem, from Forest Ethics, the group that put together the search tool. Their press release reads in part (my emphasis):

25 Million Live in Oil Train Blast Zone: New Online Mapping Tool Shows Threat to Homes, Schools, and Cities

Media Contact: Eddie Scher, ForestEthics communications director, (415) 815-7027, [email protected]

Today the citizens group ForestEthics launched, a website that allows users to see the routes of trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil and assess the threat of accidents to specific locations. The group estimates that more than 25 million Americans live in the potential oil train blast zone.

For the first time ForestEthics has brought Google mapping capabilities together with railroad industry data on oil train routes across the US and Canada. The tool uses US Department of Transportation guidance for emergency response, identifying the one mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train fire or a half mile in the case of a spill. The group used census data to estimate the number of Americans living in the one mile blast zone, but the map also shows schools, sports stadiums, town halls, and landmarks across the country within the danger zone.

Oil train traffic has increased by more than 4,000 percent in the past five years, from 9,500 tank cars in 2008 to more than 400,000 in 2013, mostly Bakken crude from North Dakota and tar sands from Alberta, Canada. Derailments, spills, and fires are also on the rise. …

“These oil trains are an unacceptable threat, especially because we don’t even need this extreme oil,” says Paglia. “Oil use in the US and Canada is down, climate risks are up, and when you put these things together the only sane thing to do is ban these exploding trains.”

ForestEthics is asking that regulators ban dangerous DOT-111 tanker cars, alert communities to the presence of oil trains, prepare and equip emergency responders, and reroute trains around cities and away from water supplies. The group is also asking that new rail safety rules, under development by the Obama Administration, give citizens the power to say no to oil trains.

Are you in a blast or spill zone? Click and find out. And if you want something to do about it, write Obama’s Dept. of Transportation, who approved this risky transport. As the press release says:

ForestEthics is asking that regulators ban dangerous DOT-111 tanker cars, alert communities to the presence of oil trains, prepare and equip emergency responders, and reroute trains around cities and away from water supplies. The group is also asking that new rail safety rules, under development by the Obama Administration, give citizens the power to say no to oil trains.

You can also ask, or join Forrest Ethics in asking. The Obama administration may be oil-soaked, but you don’t have to be. Petition here.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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27 Responses to “Are you or your loved ones in the Oil Train Blast Zone?”

  1. thelmaperine says:

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  2. mgardener says:

    I live in the Adirondacks and oil is being shipped down from Canada along Lake Champlain and Lake George. In my area, between the lake and my hometown.

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  5. Bill_Perdue says:

    Most insurance for railroads is capped at relatively low amounts by Lloyd’s and doesn’t even cover a minor derailment. The solution is to require railroads to set aside money to cover all contingencies but that won’t happen, here or in Canada. They’re just too powerful.

  6. Hue-Man says:

    Privatize the profits and socialize the losses:

    “The downtown was contaminated by the discharge of oil into the soil. As
    well, unburned oil was discharged from the tank cars and made its way
    into the nearby Restigouche River, which was the main source of drinking
    water for downstream communities. The cleanup costs alone are estimated
    in excess of $400 million and likely, given the history of past
    incidents, will be much higher when the dust has settles. There will be
    countless lawsuits to seek compensation for wrongful death and injury
    caused by this catastrophic explosion, and losses to property and
    businesses. The U.S. carrier that was responsible for the conduct of the
    train, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A), covered by
    liability insurance of only $25 million and unable to cover even a
    fraction of its liabilities, has filed for creditor protection in Canada
    and the United States. The governments of Canada and Québec have
    assumed the costs associated with the cleanup. Under Québec statutes,
    environmental cleanup costs are recoverable, assuming the responsible
    party has the necessary resources to honour its obligations.”

    BTW, Lac Megantic, QC, population, Census of 2011, was 5,932.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    That may change.
    According to Tone, who occasionally posts here, there are plans to ramp up production of oil from oil sands in Alberta and to ship them by rail to BC. Tone says that the environmental groups are against it but may not be able to stop it.

  8. Naja pallida says:

    At least Canada had the sense to stop the use of the most dangerous tanker cars… no such logic in the US. Even if we had a town explode, we don’t do anything to prevent such a thing from happening again.

  9. Indigo says:

    I don’t doubt they’re on the take. I’ve said for years that the reason marijuana is labeled a controlled substance and kept illegal is because the payoff to the political class from the underground economy is substantial enough to keep the double standard in place.

    There’s been a lot of discussion about fracking in Western PA. Friends of mine live there and are active in attempting to block the process. But . . . PA is the grand-daddy of the American oil fields . . . I doubt the momentum can be stopped. Good luck with that, turning down nearly 1/2 a million $ is heroic. I would probably take it and go surfing in Hawaii or something.

  10. Indigo says:

    Really? That sucks!

  11. lynchie says:

    More importantly many folks have drilling under their land and don’t even know it. If you don’t have mineral rights to your property the person who does can sell those rights and you as the lawful owner can ‘t stop them from entering your land and drilling, digging, or being drilled under. I live in Western Pa. and the fracking has gone crazy here. I am surrounded by dairy farms and we were all approached by a fracking company (the big Haliburton) to allow fracking. Having seen the documentaries and heard from other people I asked a few questions. 1. if i lose my well water what do you do about it? You won’t that is all lies and bullshit. 2. But if I do my 28 acres is useless to me and I have no way to sell a house and property without water? It won’t happen but if it does we will deliver a water buffalo (tank) every week with 500 gallons in it. which isn ‘t enough to flush and take a shower every second day. 3. What about the chemicals you put in the ground to frack, will they mix with me well water and kill me? Can you tell me what the chemicals are? No you won’t lose well water and we can’t tell you what the chemicals are because they are proprietary.
    Long story short I passed. They were offering $3,500 an acre so i gave up $84,000. A year has passed and they have no way to get to 3 large farms which are north of me because they have no rights to drill under my property though I would never know if they did. The offer to me now is $15,000 an acre which i still refuse because the the chemicals and the potential lose of water. Many take the money. Money is tight for many farmers and if you have 200 or 300 acres were are talking a large chunk of change. Our Republican Governor Corbet does not require any royalties from these companies and so all lose out on helping reduce state taxes. These royalties are a huge income source for many other states.

    Another thing is the companies don’t have to provide any details about the gas being removed (X thousand cubic feet x $X per thousand cubic foot) they send you a royalty check and nothing more. The well head does not have any meters.

    Our Federal and State politicians are all corrupt and on the take from the 1%.

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    Oil trains, LNG cars, tanker cars containing a variety of acids and explosive chemicals under pressure and cars containing spent nuclear fuel all pass over the rails and through densely inhabited areas.

    What makes them even more dangerous are overworked crews, poor track and switches and the plan by major railroads in the US and Canada to eliminate two person crews, in spite of the vast potential for disaster built into one person crews. (To save money for Railroad owners most over the road crews work for 8 hours, get 8 hours off and are then on call. The effects of working on a locomotive with 6-8 huge diesel engines, followed by half a dozen other locomotives all pulling 10,000 tons with the noise and vibration of steel wheels on steel tracks are debilitating in the extreme.)

    Rail unions like mine, Railroad Workers United and the Transportation Communication Union, AFL-CIO are all opposed to single person crews and remote controlled trains in yards. They’re a disaster waiting to happen.

    Last year in Canada parts of the town Lac-Mégantic in Quebec were nearly destroyed by a derailment of a crude oil train resulting in the fire and explosion of several oil cars. Forty-seven people were killed and the town center was burnt to the ground. Below are photos of the
    Lac-Mégantic derailment.

  13. nicho says:

    For a more recent example, we just passed the one-year anniversary of the Lac Megantic derailment that killed 42 people (five still missing) and devastated a huge area.

  14. nicho says:

    Our local produce is not for sale — locally. It’s grown on massive farms, picked by migrant workers, loaded into trucks, and whizzes right by us on its way to LA.

  15. Drew2u says:

    *Looks up Fargo, ND*
    Lesse: An international airport, at least two major universities, a high school, a long stretch of main street, a river that constantly floods, and power grids to the rest of the surrounding area.
    Looks fine to me!

    The attached picture is of the Red River on a particularly rainy day, with probably a 10-foot tree marker underwater. The road continues to the left under rail tracks and on the other side of the bank of the river is an oil train (can’t really see it with this potato-quality phone pic) passing right next to the river and a residential neighborhood.

  16. The_Fixer says:

    In 1996, a train carrying 13 tanker cars carrying LP gas and Propane derailed in Weyauwega (pronounced Wi-a-wee-ga), Wisconsin. The explosion of one taker car, and the fierce fire that resulted burned for more than two weeks. There was a constant threat of explosion from the remaining tanker cars. They had to fly in oil rig fire experts to figure out how to put this mess out (who also had to invent tools in the process).

    I was involved in the Amateur Radio Emergency communications effort and will tell you that it was a life-changing event for a number of people. Of course those who lost houses or whose houses sustained damage – and otherwise had their lives turned upside-down – suffered the most. 2,300 people were evacuated for two weeks, during which time the fires continued to burn.

    However, they were not the only ones affected – a great many volunteers took time from work to help out. A huge number of emergency response people took part in the effort as part of a mutual aid system in place, taking resources from other areas of the state. This could have very well caused problems in those other areas of the state, should there have been some other natural or man-made disaster,

    This brought to light the possibility that this could happen anywhere, and made me understand how fragile our shipping systems are, and how our emergency response teams are not always equipped to deal with such events.

    Which is why this situation has to be confronted now. Crude oil will do even more damage than propane when the inevitable happens – and it will.

  17. Indigo says:

    That already happens in other contexts, one pileup on the interstate and shipping is disrupted. Fortunately, it’s easy to live on local produce. Buy local when possible

  18. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Living in Minneapolis, I find that map scary. However, the real concern should be the closeness to the Mississippi River.

  19. Indigo says:

    We already have toxic run off in the Everglades, thanks to some frakking that got started recently. It seems there’s natural gas in that swamp. Nowhere is exempt from exploitation.

  20. nicho says:

    It looks like Cleveland would be totally screwed. I wonder if that’s why the GOP decided to have its 2016 convention there.

  21. lynchie says:

    See my post above for a report on the tar sands. The area under production is the size of Florida and the toxic runoff has created pools which are visible from space.

  22. lynchie says:

    Here is an interesting report on the Canadian Tar Sands and the costs environmentally associated with its extraction of oil.

    “Tar sands production consumes and contaminates enormous
    amounts of fresh water — up to four gallons for every one gallon of
    crude oil produced. Processing mined tar sands creates toxic waste
    that is held in ponds so massive they are visible from space.”

    It is safe to say no one in Congress or the White House is thinking about the impact of the XL pipeline but only in terms of the kickbacks and bribes they will get.

  23. nicho says:

    You may not suffer from the initial blast, but you may see some serious problems from food and fuel shortages — maybe even electricity shortages — depending on where the blast is. All these things are connected.

  24. milli2 says:

    Woo hoo, I’m in a red zone but I already knew that. There’s already been three small train derailments in our area in the past few years – ground below tracks keeps giving way in certain spots.

  25. Clevelandchick says:

    My oldest brother is a VP for a rail container company in the Chicago area. He told me these oil tanker trains have taken up all of the lines and they’re losing tons of business to other modes like trucking. That’s why he’s for the XL and other pipelines.

    So, the only way to move this crap is by rail with increased semi traffic on the roads for shipping all other goods and exploding trains – which means more CO2 in the air, accidents and dead people. Or, by pipeline which will destroy our the land and water in its path.

    Catastrophic consequences the way it’s extracted and catastrophic consequence anyway it’s brought to the market. I wish the international community would band together for a boycott tar sands oil altogether – it’s the worst idea in the history of ideas.

  26. Indigo says:

    Worrisome. Living in Florida, I’m in no immediate danger from a crude oil train explosion. The rising sea level is another matter, but no danger form crude oil train explosions. There’s always something, it seems.

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