By editorial board • 

Deadly derailments push danger to breaking point

About five years ago, rising Middle East oil prices and advancing North American extraction technology intersected, making recovery of crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and North Dakota shale fields feasible at an affordable cost. And no matter where you live, the effects are now being felt in a city near you.

Transcontinental pipelines require billions of dollars for years-long planning, permitting and construction, typically over fierce opposition. So it’s little surprise that shipping oil by rail shot from just 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 400,000 in 2013. Much of it is snaking cross-country in miles-long processions of single-walled DOT-111 tankers, which date back to 1964 and are prone to bursting and burning in a derailment.

In Oregon last year, 242 million highly volatile gallons moved west through the gorge to Clatskanie, Portland and Vancouver, or south along the I-5 corridor to California. Along the way, the oil passed through Portland, Salem, Eugene and Bend, along with smaller communities.

Although we haven’t had a derailment yet, they have occurred elsewhere with alarming frequency. The most serious leveled much of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last summer, claiming 47 lives. The most recent , on April 30, devastated the waterfront in Lynchburg, Virginia, sending flames 200 feet skyward.

Last year, ruptured tankers spilled 1.15 million gallons of crude, compared to 800,000 gallons in the previous 37 years combined.

A double-walled car, the CPC-1232, came on the market two years ago. But the industry isn’t about to replace its 92,000 DOT-111s overnight. Besides, the new cars also rupture, just not as readily.

The feds recently rushed to bar craft brewers from feeding spent grain to cattle, citing the purely theoretical potential of salmonella contamination. But they have shown no such haste in tackling a proven danger posed by powerful oil and rail interests.

Public pressure is beginning to build, though, and it already is showing some signs of success:

  • Recently, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced it would no longer require railroads to report oil shipments because The Oregonian had won a ruling making those reports public. ODOT reversed course the next morning after Gov. John Kitzhaber intervened.
  • Global Partners, owner of the Port Westward oil export terminal at Clatskanie, announced just hours after last week’s Lynchburg disaster that it would accept no more shipments in single-walled tankers.
  • Finally, citing a 250 percent increase last year alone in crude oil traffic in Oregon, Kitzhaber wrote federal transportation officials last Friday insisting on urgent action.

Please join us in demanding nothing less.

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