March 13, 2015

by K.T. Tierney, 3 Rivers Rising Tide 

In the evacuation zone of the Norfolk-Southern line, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

At a moment when we desperately need to transition away from carbon intensive sources of energy to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change, the continued transport of dangerously filthy crude oil by rail is symptomatic of the condition endemic to the fossil fuel industry–always securing profits at the expense of the public and the planet. We currently have the technological capabilities to fulfill all of our energy needs from sustainable sources, it is a lack of political will which keeps us tied to the power sources of the last century rather than transforming our society with what is possible this century. 


In the last four weeks, four trains have derailed, resulting in explosions, fires, contaminated waterways, and the destruction of a home. Because of the fracking boom in the Bakken Shale and coutinued laxity of government regulations these derailments are happening at an increasing rate. Since 2008, shipments of oil by rail have increased by 4000 percent, without any permitting and little oversight these trains are allowed to pass through our communities and wild spaces. The 2013 Lac Megantic disaster in Canada where 47 people were killed and several other incidents in the past few years have increased public scrutiny over crude by rail but this has yet to result in substantive change. The volume of crude by rail and poor safety standards could soon combine to produce unnecessarily high human casualties if an accident were to happen in one of the many urban centers that the trains pass through daily. 

The logic of this extreme energy extraction puts about 25 million people in the United States and more than 40% of Pittsburgh residents within the 1 mile evacuation zone in the event of derailment. The economy of extreme extraction creates ever expanding sacrifice zones, in the tar sands, in the shalefields, and along transport routes, where people, wildlife, and the Enviornment bear the burden of risk and damage but enjoy none of the profits. 

The number of recent derailments have raised a chorus who are calling for stricter safety regulations. The government thus far has deferred regulation to the oil industry. The older DOT 111 cars are notoriously unsafe and yet thousands remain in service. The industry rolled out the “improved” CPC 1232 rail cars in 2012 which have been proven to be unsound in a derailment and were involved in the recent West Virginia fireball explosion. The flaws of these newer “safer” cars prove that the industry is not only incapable of making the rail cars safe enough to transport, but that they will continue to prioritize profits over public safety as long as they can, or until the oil runs out. 

We must reject the false dichotomy that the only options we have are to accept the burden of risk associated with the explosive transport of oil by rail or by pipelines that inevitably leak. This bifurcation denies the possibility of a third option, leaving the oil in the ground. We are currently living way beyond the means of the allotted Carbon Budget to limit global temperature rise. If we allow the continued extraction of these extreme forms of oil from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and the Alberta tar sands from northern Canada, we will lock in rates of warming well beyond the 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels put forth by scientists with the United Nations IPCC to avoid “dangerous” levels of warming. (Even this limit is considered too high by many.)

There has long ceased to be any genuine scientific debate about the reality of human induced climate change, only obfusation and lies on the part of “deniers” who are invariably proven to have ties to the oil and gas industry. Humanity must be uncompromising in its demand for clean energy now and a just transition away from the present suicidal course of extreme energy set by the profiteers of the oil and gas industry.

No more bomb trains, no more pipe lines. Not here, not anywhere.


Center for Biological Diversity 

Runaway Risk: Oil trains and the Government’s Failure to Protect People, Wildife, and the Enviornment.


1.5 million at risk in PA for crude oil derailment

Penn Enviornment

Danger Around the Bend: the threat of oil trains in Pennsylvania

Written by Nick Stocks