Lac Megantic

“We Need Not Be Polite” Hears First National Conference On Oil Train Threats

oil train conference

On November 12th, I boarded a train headed to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the first national independent gathering focused on the topic of oil trains. The trip would take me through Philadelphia where an Amtrak train crashed in May resulting in eight fatalities and over 200 injuries. 

There is general consensus that the accident would have been avoided if positive train control technology had been in place. In 2008, Congress mandated that positive train control be installed by the end of 2015. However, the railroads failed to do this and were recently given a three to five year extension by Congress after the rail companies threatened to shut down rail service if the mandate were enforced.

Risky Shale Oil-by-Rail Expands Despite Lack of Spill Response Preparedness

The worst onshore oil spill in United States history was the Kalamazoo River tar sands pipeline spill in 2010 with estimates of one million gallons of oil spilled. In comparison, the oil-by-rail accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was 50% bigger.

With the oil-by-rail industry proposing large expansions to West Coast destinations, it is understandable that some local communities are worried about the risks of a spill causing major environmental damage and threatening human health.

Blocking the Bomb Trains: Nationwide Protests On Lac-Megantic Anniversary

It’s corporate greed versus the common good, whether it’s rail safety or climate change.”

Those were the words of Lowen Berman, a Portland activist involved in a blockade of oil train tracks to mark the second anniversary of the Lac-Megantic oil train disaster.

Berman and 60 other activists protested in Portland today as part of a national Oil Train Week of Protests led by and ForestEthics.

Cost of Doing Business? Oil Companies Agree To Pay For Some of Lac-Megantic Damages, But Not to Solve the Real Problems

Although insisting the industry is not to blame, several of the oil companies involved in the fatal Lac-Megantic oil train accident in 2013 have agreed to contribute to a fund to compensate the families of the 47 victims in that accident.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that oil companies Shell, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Irving have all agreed to contribute to the fund to avoid future litigation, along with General Electric and the Canadian government. While the actual amounts contributed by most companies involved are not available, the total fund is reportedly at $345 million. That sounds like a lot of money but still is less than the $400 million retirement package for Exxon’s last CEO, for example.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. hasn't agreed to the settlement, according to the Bangor Daily News, which reports that the judge in the case has delayed his decision on the settlement. Canadian Pacific has asked the court to shield it from future litigation and challenged the Quebec provincial court’s jurisdiction.

Tar Sands by Rail Disasters: The Latest Wave in the Bomb Train Assault

With the first crash and explosion of a unit train of tar sands oil in Canada in February, we learned that the conventional wisdom among people covering the oil-by-rail industry regarding the flammability of tar sands oil has been dead wrong. A second derailment and explosion on March 7th involved synbit, which is a form of bitumen diluted with synthetic crude oil.

While there are many examples of this mischaracterization of the dangers of moving tar sands by rail that can be found in the press, here at DeSmogBlog we didn’t have to look far. In an article last year about how to make Bakken crude less dangerous we wrote that the government had plans to allow tar sands oil to be transported in the unsafe DOT-111 rail tank cars “because it is not explosive.”

While raw bitumen from the Alberta tar sands is not volatile or highly flammable, when it is diluted with natural gas condensate to form a mixture known as dilbit, which is typically done to make it easier to transport, it appears that it can be as dangerous as the Bakken crude that has now been proven to be highly flammable and explosive in multiple train derailments.

An article in Railway Age pointing out the implications of the tar-sands-by-rail accident had the ominous title “Why bitumen isn’t necessarily safer than Bakken” and concluded with the statement that “Should TSB [Transportation Safety Board] conclude that dilbit has a volatility similar to Bakken crude, as the Alberta research suggests, the hazmat classification of crude oil could be in question.”

Dangerous Oil Trains To Return to Lac-Megantic While Town Still Recovers

We’re seeing strong growth. We’re seeing some large accounts come back. The future is bright.”

According to the Portland Press Herald, that was the assessment of the future by Ryan Ratledge, the current chief operating officer for Central Maine and Quebec Railway, the railroad that runs through Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Central Maine and Quebec Railway is the new name of the railroad that was operating the train that caused the oil train disaster in Lac Megantic in July 2013 that resulted in the death of 47 people. As DeSmogBlog reported previously, cost cutting measures by the railroad were directly linked to the cause of the accident. 

After the accident, the railway declared bankruptcy and the assets were purchased by Fortress Investment Group, which currently manages over $66 billion in assets.

Canadian Government: This Reporter's Question About ALEC 'Undeserving of Response'

ALEC light brigading

This article is re-published with permission from

As some of you may know, I’ll be starting a new role in January 2015 as an investigative resources correspondent for Reuters.

Getting access to records about government decisions and policies has long played a key role in the work of many journalists around the world. It will also be a key element for me in the weeks, months and years to come.

So to end off 2014, here are a few examples of some of my recent experiences with government efforts to either release or hide information.

Canada’s information watchdog has noted that the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes access to information as a quasi-constitutional right of all Canadians.

Obtaining access to information is an extension of freedom of expression since it allows the population to be informed and speak about government policies and decisions on how these governments spend public money.

‘Wild West’ Approach to Regulation in Bakken Shale Means Bomb Trains Continue to Roll

Wild west Bakken

Prepare yourself for a rare moment of honesty from the oil industry.

It happened on Sept. 23 at a hearing of the North Dakota Industrial Commission during a discussion on ways to make Bakken crude oil less flammable for transportation.

The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.

So, there you have it: making Bakken crude safer to transport by rail via oil stabilization, which removes flammable natural gas liquids such as butane, means making it less valuable to the refineries.

This profit motive is at least part of the reason why the American Petroleum Institute has made it clear it will not accept mandatory oil stabilization as part of the new oil-by-rail regulations.

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

Should CEOs Get Jail Time For Oil-By-Rail Accidents Like Lac Megantic?

Lac Megantic train explosion

On May 12th, a heavily armed SWAT unit stormed the home of Thomas Harding and threw Harding, his son and a visitor to the ground. Harding was then handcuffed, arrested and taken for interrogation.

Harding was the engineer for the oil train that caused the explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. He had cooperated with authorities and was expecting to be charged. The excessive force used to arrest Harding was criticized for being a “politically motivated stunt” in The National Post.

No one is claiming that Harding intentionally caused the accident — however, he is the one facing charges that could result in life in prison.

Meanwhile, the oil industry has knowingly shipped explosive Bakken crude oil and, in the case of Lac-Megantic, misclassified the oil to make it appear less explosive than it actually was.

Irving Oil has been identified by Canada's Transportation Safety Board as the party ultimately responsible for insuring the proper classification of the oil it had purchased. No one from Irving Oil has been charged with any crime.


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