Mazamas September 2016

Page 12


by Dan Serres, Conservation Director of Columbia Riverkeeper


n June 3, the debate over crude oil rail shipments took a dramatic turn when a 96-car train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed, rupturing four cars and causing a fire that prompted the evacuation of over 100 residents and Mosier School. On June 4, after the fire was extinguished, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton told OPB News that the shipment of volatile crude oil in rail cars was “insane.” Echoing his concerns, Senators Merkley and Wyden, and Governor Brown, have called for a temporary halt in oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge. Meanwhile, thousands of Oregon and Washington residents are urging Washington Governor Inslee to deny a pending application for the largest oil-byrail terminal in North America in Vancouver, Washington. What really happened in Mosier? Here’s what we know from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) initial report: ▶▶ A 96-car trainloaded with Bakken oil derailed in Mosier traveling at 25 mph. ▶▶ The train originated in New Town,


"The oil industry needs to stop exploiting communities, and instead reduce its oil transportation activities, rather than ramping it up..." North Dakota, and was destined for Tacoma, Washington. ▶▶ 16 cars derailed, and four cars ruptured. ▶▶ Spilled oil ignited, causing four cars to be involved in a fire that burned for over 14 hours. ▶▶ The derailment was caused by broken lag bolts (bolts that hold the rail ties and track together), a flaw that allowed the tracks to spread apart. ▶▶ "Union Pacific’s failure to maintain its track and track equipment resulted in the derailment.” Almost simultaneously with the FRA’s assignment of blame, Union Pacific announced plans to restart oil train traffic through the Gorge. Yet, as Senator Merkley and Governor Brown later noted, neither Union Pacific nor the FRA have determined why inspections had failed to detect the broken lag bolts. As a result, Oregon’s key elected leaders have called for a halt in oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge until oil trains can be proven safe and the underlying causes of oil train derailments are understood and prevented.

Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns summed up Union Pacific’s plans to restart oil train traffic despite unresolved safety concerns: “It’s the definition of being railroaded.” A DISTURBING TREND HITS HOME Unfortunately, Mosier is not the first community to experience a catastrophic oil train accident. On July 6, 2013, an oil train derailed, spilled, and ignited in the small Quebec town of Lac Megantic. The ensuing series of explosions and fires resulted in 47 deaths and the devastation of the small community, as well as a huge toxic release of oil into a nearby river and the town. This month, dozens of communities across North America are pausing to remember the community of Lac Megantic, Quebec, which experienced the first—and worst— of over a dozen oil train derailments in the past three years. Jacques Gagnon, a survivor of the Lac Megantic disaster, wrote an open letter to those participating in vigils and marches, stating: “The recent derailment on June 3rd, 2016 in Mosier, Oregon reminds us that we need to work to change the regulations.