Lac Megantic

Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

Lac-Mégantic before oil train explosion leveled its downtown

Damning new testimony from an engineer of the locomotive involved in the deadly 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, reveals several ways corporate cost-cutting directly led to the accident, which claimed 47 lives.

Senator Backed by Rail Companies Introduces New Bill That Would De-Regulate Rail Industry

Locomotive

A new bill by one of the rail industry’s favorite senators looks to change how the industry is regulated to allow “market forces to improve rail safety.” In June, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who happens to chair the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, introduced the Railroad Advancement of Innovation and Leadership with Safety (RAILS) Act.

In essence, the bill seeks to shift the rail industry toward a self-regulatory — and more difficult to enforce — approach to safety known as “performance-based regulation,” an effort first reported by DeSmog after a Congressional hearing in May.

The Flipside of Accuracy: NPR Report on Oil and Ethanol Train Derailments Full of Industry Talking Points

Derailment by Sarah Zarling

On November 7th, a train carrying ethanol in DOT-111 tank cars derailed in Wisconsin, resulting in rail cars rupturing and a spill of 18,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River.

The next day, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in a residential area in Watertown, Wisconsin, resulting in a spill of around 1,000 gallons of oil.

These two spills provide another stark reminder of the dangers of moving oil and ethanol along waterways and through residential areas.

It also apparently provided an opportunity for National Public Radio (NPR) to push multiple oil and rail industry talking points. And the article on NPR's website notes NPR is sponsored by America's Natural Gas (ANGA). 

“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 350.org 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 mikedesouza.com

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.

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