AlterNet | April 22, 2015 | Column by Reynard Loki
A short documentary warns about the dangers posed by trains that transport explosive crude oil across North America.
A Danger on Rails is a new short documentary by filmmaker and journalist Jon Bowermaster that examines the danger posed by crude oil trains. Coal-black and appropriately ominous looking, these trains carry highly flammable crude oil and have been an increasingly common—and worrisome—sight across the United States.
"I live in the Hudson Valley and see these trains daily; Albany is a major hub, and trains traveling south down the Hudson River toward mid-Atlantic refineries hug its shores," writes Bowermaster in a New York Times op-ed piece accompanying the video. "Every day on the East Coast, as many as 400,000 barrels of this explosive mixture travel through our backyards over shaky bridges, highways and overpasses."
"The transport of petroleum products up and down the river to the port of Albany is not new," said Roger Downs, conservation director at the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, in the film. "We've been doing that for the better part of a hundred years. What is new is that this is a crude product that isn't part of a local economic consumption pattern."
The oil comes from North Dakota, extracted from a section of the Bakken formation, a 200,000-square-mile rock formation that also underlies Montana and parts of Canada.
Bowermaster, a 30-year resident of the Hudson Valley, notes that Safety and Homeland Security officials have referred to these trains as potential terrorist weapons.
"Bakken crude is different from other crude oil," said Downs. "It has a flash point less than 74 degrees. It's shipped in these containers called DOT-111s, a containment unit meant for liquids, not necessarily hazardous materials."
Earlier this year, crude oil trains derailed and exploded in West Virginia and Ontario. In July 2013, 47 people were killed when a similar train derailed and exploded in Quebec.
"The Transportation Safety Board has said 85 percent of these cars should not be handling this sort of petroleum," said Paul Gallay, the president of Riverkeeper, a Hudson River environmental watchdog group, in the film. "One hundred and twenty cars on some of these trains, 30,000 gallons of fuel per car, a very volatile fuel. When it comes down to it, each of these train cars is like a rolling bomb."
Riverkeeper is calling on the federal government to take immediate action, including limiting the length and speed of crude oil trains, in order to protect communities and the environment before the next disaster occurs.
The group is also asking New York State citizens to urge Governor Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to ban the use of inappropriate DOT-111 cars for transporting crude oil and open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation.
"The Department of Transportation has estimated that...there will be 15 major accidents in the United States this year alone," said Bowermaster. "I hope we will do our best to prevent them."