Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.
Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. derailments, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.
As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.
As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.
So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.
URGENT – Call your PA Senator from now through Tuesday!
Oppose PA SB411, the Acid Mine Drainage in Fracking Bill!
Please call or email your Pennsylvania State Senator right now to tell him or her not to vote for PA SB411.
SB411 provides overly broad immunity to drillers, letting them off the hook if they pollute streams or soil with highly toxic fracking wastewater, as long as that toxic waste includes any amount of AMD (acid mine drainage) water.
What’s worse, proposed gas rules now open for public comment would allow untreated AMD to be stored in open freshwater impoundments used in fracking and drilling. But those impoundments are not designed to hold hazardous liquids, adding another way that this pollution can be let loose into the environment.
Please email or call your PA State Senator now. The vote is expected today, Monday, Jan. 13th, but keep calling through Tuesday because anything can happen.
Update: 11:30 AM Monday Jan. 13th: The critical vote belongs to State Senator Vincent Hughes, the Senate Minority Leader. Please call Senator Hughes’ office and ask him to vote no on SB 411, because companies shouldn’t be allowed to profit off of pollution.
Call Senator Hughes now: (717) 787-7112
To find your Pennsylvania State Senator click here.
The Bill, as currently amended, can be found here.
Please ask your family and friends to call too!
For Talking Points and more information and analysis go here.
Don’t be confused!
As if to add further badly-timed confusion to the fire, StateImpact PA just published an article this morning, on the day of the vote, singing the praises of using Acid Mine Drainage water to reduce radioactivity in fracking wastewater!
While the science is interesting, in practice the benefits are theoretical, with other potential consequences left unexplored. Worse, unfortunately the StateImpact piece concluded with a brief reference to the Acid Mine Drainage bill (SB411). which implies the acid mine drainage bill is purely beneficial. The StateImpact piece ignores the raging controversy, fails to mention the fierce statewide opposition to the bill among residents of fracking regions and among at least 27 environmental organizations, including Protecting Our Waters.
Let’s be clear. The bill is written by the fracking industry and its friends to ensure that they get more power and control, save money, and have less liability for their actions… while “framing” the bill as pro-environmental. It’s a Trojan Horse.
In addition to letting polluters off the hook for damage they cause as long as AMD water is used in the waste that causes the damage, and in addition to the clauses allowing dangerous and inappropriate storage of AMD, SB411, according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, “would spread polluted water from coal mines into our aquifers and into the fracking business. It is being described as a ‘beneficial activity’ but is really a perversion of the PA Environmental Good Samaritan Act.”
Please call now to oppose SB411. Then, if you like, join 2100 petition-signers here and join 140 “Thunderclap” users here, to maximize the power of the internet… after you’ve maximized the power of your own voice with that crucial telephone call.
Thank you for all you do!
Despite the efforts of the Obama administration, over the last few months, word has been bubbling up about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. With that increasing knowledge has come increased outrage across wide-ranging interests, governments, and party lines. What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), why is the Obama administration trying to keep it secret, and why is it provoking a growing outcry?
General TPP Facts:
- It’s big. The TPP would establish a free trade zone from Vietnam to Chile, covering about 800 million people, 40 percent of the global economy, and a third of world trade.
- But the contents of the agreement aren’t really about international trade, at least in the traditional sense. “The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch on Democracy Now, 10/4/13.
- As Secretary of State, John Kerry has been one of the leaders in promoting the TPP and the Obama administration’s wishes for it abroad. At the October 2013 APEC Summit in Indonesia, Kerry said, “At its core, TPP is about generating growth for our economies and jobs for our people by unleashing a wave of investment and entrepreneurship all across the Asia Pacific. And at a time when we, all of us, seek strong and sustainable growth, TPP is creating a race to the top, not to the bottom.”
- The Obama administration is trying to Fast Track the TPP, meaning that Congress would only get a yes-or-no vote on whether to pass it and no ability to discuss or amend the agreement. Explains Bloomberg, “The trade authority, which expired in 2007, lets Congress set parameters for considering trade deals, and allows lawmakers to pass the accords without making amendments.”
- The Obama administration hoped to finish TPP negotiations by the end of 2013, but it’s been delayed, in part by countries who disagree with U.S. (and frequently Australian) proposals to give huge amounts of power to corporations.
Closed Doors–to Everyone But Corporations
- From The Washington Post on 11/15/13: “The United States Trade Representative and the Obama administration have kept the treaty texts secret from the public. However, they have shared texts with 700 or so “cleared advisers,” all of whom come from intellectual property rights holders’ industries,” including Verizon, Cisco, and General Electric.
- Says Wallach, “And it was only after a big, great fuss was kicked up by a lot of members—150 of them wrote last year—that finally members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.” (Democracy Now, 10/4/13, above and here)
Who Opposes it and Why?
- The U.S. has taken extreme positions even among fellow TPP negotiating countries, leading to some discord and stalling in negotations.
- Congress. According to Susan Sell, Political Science Professor at George Washington University in The Washington Post‘s 11/15/13 post, “Congress has already expressed displeasure at being shut out of this process. When its members see how provisions that had been defeated in a domestic, democratic, and deliberative process in January 2012 have been included in TPP I suspect that they will not be happy.”
- And she’s right. In November 151 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter opposing the Fast Track process, while 22 Republicans in Congress, including Michele Bachmann and PA Representative Mike Fitzpatrick, sent their own letter to President Obama opposing it.
- The venerable international NGO Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Intellectual property rules contained in the TPP would make the medicines relied on by Doctors Without Borders and the populations they serve unaffordable. As explained in their action alert, “We need to keep prices low so our patients — and millions of others still waiting for treatment in the developing world — can get the medicines they need.”
- Anyone who’s done the economic analysis. The TPP wouldn’t actually benefit U.S. trade, and could even hurt it. For example, the TPP prohibits the popular Buy American provisions that promote U.S. jobs and competitiveness of U.S.-made goods. Public Citizen has a breakdown of the myths and facts here. And even Bloomberg, typically pro-capitalism, has expressed strong reservations, publishing an article entitled “Pacific Trade Deal Needs More WikiLeaking” or, as published in The Japan Times, “WikiLeaks Reveals why Asia Should Skip the TPP.”
Corporate Rights Above All: TPP and the Environment
- “Only the United States and Japan oppose the objectives in the treaty (Article QQ.A.2) that mention economic and social development, maintaining a balance between the interests of rights holders and users, protecting the public domain, quality examination procedures, and access to affordable medicines,” says George Washington University’s Professor Susan Sell.
- Says Public Citizen’s Wallach, “It would be a big push for fracking. Now you would say, ‘Why fracking?’ Because it doesn’t allow us to have bans on liquid natural gas exports. Or, if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries.” (Democracy Now 10/4/13, above and here)
The Investor-State System
- The TPP includes the investor-state system, in which corporations can sue governments if their expected profits are impacted by any government action, including those pushed for by the people. Explains Wallach, these cases wouldn’t be heard in government courts, “but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation. They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations.” Philip Morris is already doing this in Australia in retaliation for legislated plain cigarette packaging with larger health warnings. According to Public Citizen, in 2012, the U.S. Lone Pine company “launched a $250 million NAFTA investor-state case against a Canadian ban on fracking.”
- More details about the rights given to corporations under the TPP and investor-state systems are available from Public Citizen here. Besides chilling public opposition, regulation, and government action, the investor-state system rarely allows people and governments to hold corporations accountable. As detailed in Public Citizen’s fact sheet on TPP and the environment, instead, corporations will leave a country to avoid accountability in domestic courts, then sue from afar.
What You Can Do
- As Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen puts it, “We need to stop fast track, for one. [...] Fast track makes it easier for industry groups to ram bad policies through, via the Office of the US Trade Representative, with little Congressional oversight. Last week nearly half of Congress revolted against fast track authority, and we can build on that success. Members of Congress need to hear the message: no to fast track.”
- Email your members of Congress and tell them to vote No on Fast Track. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a general, slightly tech-centered letter to send through their website to your members of Congress.
- Or, call Congress. Public Citizen has instructions and a script on their website.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: “We’re TPP Activists: Reddit Asked Us Everything“
- Public Citizen: Expose the TPP
- Public Citizen’s fact sheet on TPP and the environment: “TPP’s Investment Rules Harm the Environment“
- In November, WikiLeaks released the draft for the entire Intellectual Property Rights Chapter of the TPP.
- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s analysis of TPP and the threat it poses to public health in developing countries.
Today the members of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission stood up to pressure from the shale gas industry — and from Governor Christie — and voted 7 to 7 to reject a pipeline which would have carried fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale through the treasured, and legally protected, New Jersey Pinelands.
Seven Commissioners rejected an intensely controversial “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) which would have violated the Commission’s own rules in order to permit the pipeline. These Commissioners acted to protect a region that provides drinking water to millions of state residents against a brand new, unnecessary, and damaging South Jersey Gas Pipeline.
This is a major victory for the people and for the environment. It also shows that every local resident, every independent grassroots environmental advocate — and everyone from organizations large and small who showed up over and over again to testify — put their time, their energy, their resources and their passion for protection to good use.
We are all, quite frankly, ecstatic.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network sent this short message, with a link to emerging press coverage of today’s vote and its meaning:
“THANK YOU TO ALL WHO TOOK PART IN THIS FIGHT! HUGE VICTORY!!”
Protecting Our Waters representatives testified about a dozen times at the series of meetings from July through January, and put out as many public alerts, proud to be an active part of this vital struggle. We are even prouder of local New Jersey galvanizers like Georgina Shanley, Margo Pellegrino, and others who never hesitated and never gave up.
Today’s vote is an affirmation of the heart and soul of organizing political will against the odds. And it affirms the wisdom of calling for the best qualities of decision-makers to emerge, while consistently confronting bias and bullying at every turn.
The public’s demand for health, safety and a sustainable future aligned with passion far and wide for keeping the Pinelands as wild, as flourishing, as powerfully alive as possible.
The decision-making process seemed almost to be designed to maximize the frustration of the concerned public.
The public testified, then were told their testimony wasn’t recorded. The public demanded an expert witness, restoration ecologist Kevin Heatley, be allowed to present as much information to the Commission as South Jersey Gas had been allowed to present, and the request was denied. “Final votes” were called repeatedly, then turned out not to be final. Suddenly scheduled and re-scheduled meetings forced activists to mobilize repeatedly, in challenging times and places. Many people sacrificed, having to give up work, school, and family responsibilities to come through to protect the Pinelands.
This strategy is called “Relentless ‘Persistence,” and it worked! On behalf of climate, we won. On behalf of forests, wetlands, wildlife and waterways, we won. On behalf of public safety — enough with the fracking fireballs! — we won. On behalf of public health, we won. On behalf of air quality and safe drinking water quality, we won. On behalf of the people and democratic control as it is meant to be exercised, we won.
Sustainability and Democracy Join Forces: “The Pinelands are Not for Sale”
Today’s victory is also a victory for sustainability. While the pipeline’s advocates claimed it was exclusively for domestic beneficial use, other indicators suggested it would be used to export fracked gas as LNG — liquified natural gas — overseas.
“We are proud the Commissioners did their job to protect the Pinelands region, its water supply, and its unique ecosystem from a polluting fossil fuel pipeline. Even with all the bullying and arm twisting, protection of the environment prevailed. With this vote today the Commissioners stood up to protect the Pinelands, ensured better air quality for the region, stopped dirty energy in the region, stopped the potential for LNG exports, and shut down the BL England plant,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a press release today.
He added, “This is a victory for democracy over bullying, a victory for the Pinelands and more important, for the people. This is the biggest environmental victory under the Christie administration. The Commissioners did not cave to polluters and special interests. Today the Commissioners said the Pinelands are not for sale.”
Opposition Wide and Deep
In its statement today, the Sierra Club summarized, “The ill-conceived project is widely opposed. Four former New Jersey Governors and a number of state legislators had come out in opposition based on concerns with the legality of using an MOA for project approval, the lack of a proven compelling need for the project, the existence of alternatives that do not violate Pinelands regulations, and the lack of public process in the proceedings. Newspapers across the region have written editorials in opposition based on the significant negative impacts associated with the project. The Pinelands Commission received thousands of letters (over 1600 during the official comment period and many more beforehand) and petitions in opposition to the project and hundreds of people spoke out against the project at public hearings before the Commission.”
Urgent Flood of Emails Needed to Federal Rep opposing Pinelands Pipeline!
This Friday, January 10 the Pinelands Commission will vote on whether or not to allow the massive new South Jersey Gas pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands Forest Area, violating a ban on this kind of destructive pipeline and ruining irreplaceable, invaluable and unique Pinelands forest assets. The fight to save the Pinelands from this intrusion has been hard fought and it is now down to the wire. The vote can go either way.
From Delaware Riverkeeper Network — on behalf of the entire movement to prevent this destructive fracked gas pipeline through the unique, and legally preserved, ecosystem of the Pinelands — note: anyone can comment!
This is where you come in. Please take a moment to email the federal representative on the Commission to say “Vote NO on the South Jersey Pipeline”. The Dept. of the Interior’s representative works for the National Park Service (NPS) and represents the federal government, – the Dept. of the Interior – on the Commission. These agencies were instrumental in forming the Pinelands reserve 35 years ago. They need to know you want these precious resources protected, for REAL. The federal representative could hold the deciding vote – let’s make sure they hear from us in a BIG way.
If you can make it to the meeting Friday, go here for details – the more people who stand up for the Pinelands on Friday, the more likely the unlawful Memorandum of Agreement will be voted down. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM on January 10th, 2014 at the Richard J. Sullivan Center, 15C Springfield Road, New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064.
Please email Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, and the National Park Service NOW to urge the federal rep to oppose the Pinelands pipeline and vote NO on this historic vote.
(NOTE: Some people are getting an “invalid” message delivered back from Sec’y Jewell. We [DRN] tested it again this morning with a request for a delivery confirmation and got back a notice that it was successfully delivered AND a message that it was invalid separately. We have built redundancy into the emails by providing another DOI email address that is a blind cc and the NPS address so we are pretty certain the emails are going to both the DOI and the NPS.
Sorry for any confusion. It may be a response to all the emails they are getting from many groups doing action alerts on this at this critical time…so please take action and know that at least 2 of the addresses (DOI and NPS) are receiving the emails we are sending. Thank you!) — update from Tracy Carluccio at DRN.
Thanks to DRN and to all the individuals and groups who are stepping up right now in this urgent, important campaign.
Ok. Someone’s got to say it. So we will. Stop the Bakken Shale oil trains!
The flaring is extreme: surely by now you’ve seen the photos of the Bakken Shale flaring? With 1,500 fires burning, it can be seen from outer space. The destructiveness to our climate is scientifically documented and can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the fugitive methane emissions that can be seen only with a FLIR camera.
But this — packing rail cars not designed to transport volatile, toxic, high-pressure gasses like benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene — and then putting shale oil mixed with 30 percent to 40 percent volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene — and then sending those trains through residential neighborhoods across the country — is beyond.
The mushroom-shaped fireball in Casselton should tell anyone these are no ordinary fires. The Bakken Shale oil is super-flammable, full of volatile gasses, and something is wrong with any official anywhere who lets these trains through their town. Forty-seven people are dead from the Lac-Megantic explosion, and fire from these exploding trains have filled the sky four times in six months, most recently on December 30th in Casselton, North Dakota.
Scientists and engineers are questioning whether, in fact, the derailments are causing the explosions, or the other way around. Watch the ten-minute video discussion with scientist Scott Smith, embedded in this Desmogblog post, to learn more. In the Alabama and North Dakota incidents, the engine cars stayed on the tracks, Smith says, whereas the exploded part of the train may have derailed because the Bakken Shale oil exploded into flames when the volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, turned from liquid to gas and ignited due to the presence of any static electricity or spark.
The Bakken Shale oil train series of explosions is so extraordinary that we are reposting in full, below, the Desmogblog piece by Steve Horn which has been making national news for 48 hours, including a mention on Democracy Now! on January 6th. This is top notch investigative reporting:
Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals
On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.
This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett‘s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.
Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLC, incorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The BNSF Direct ”bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis’ terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.
According to Marquis’ website, its Hayti, Missouri terminal receives seven of BNSF Direct’s 118-unit cars per week, with an on-site holding terminal capacity of 550,000 barrels of oil.
Marquis was one of many companies in attendance at a major industry conference in Houston, Texas in February 2013, called “Upgrading Crude By Rail Capacity.” Its September 2012 Missouri DNR permit application lends additional insight into how and why BNSF’s freight train erupted so intensely in Casselton.
Rather than a normal permit, Marquis was given a “special conditions” permit because the Bakken oil it receives from BNSF contains high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the same threat PHMSA noted in its recent safety alert.
Among the most crucial of the special conditions: Marquis must flare off the VOCs before barging the oil down the Mississippi River. (Flaring is already a highly controversial practice in the Bakken Shale region, where gas is flared off at rates comparable to Nigeria.)
It’s a tacit admission that the Bakken Shale oil aboard the exploded BNSF train in Casselton, ND is prone to such an eruption.
“Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) emissions are expected from the proposed equipment,” explains the Marquis permit. “There will be evaporative losses of Toluene, Xylene, Hexane, and Benzene from the crude oil handled by the installation.”
In a December 31 Google Hangout conversation between actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, and the group’s chief scientist Scott Smith, Mr. Smith discussed the oil samples he collected on a previous visit to North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.
“What I know from the testing I’ve done on my own — I went out to the Bakken oil fields and pumped oil from the well — I know there are unprecedented levels of these explosive volatiles: benzene, toluene, xylene,” said Smith.
“And from the data that I’ve gotten from third parties and tested myself, 30 to 40 percent of what’s going into those rail cars are explosive volatiles, again that are not in typical oils.”
“We must work to better understand the risks involved with the transportation of unconventional crude oil, whether diluted bitumen or Bakken fracked oil,” Smith told DeSmogBlog.
“It all starts with scientifically and transparently understanding exactly what is in these crude oils, and working to set new safety standards to protect human lives and all waterways, wetlands, marshes and sensitive ecosystems.”
It may be the dead of winter in North Dakota, but the Casselton explosion has shined a bright light on the myriad serious threats of Bakken oil rolling down the tracks through the backyards of thousands of Americans. The industry’s secrecy about the explosiveness of this oil just went up in flames.
But how will the public react to the news that industry knew this could happen all along? With the Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, and the deadly Bakken oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec last July, all North Americans ought to question the wisdom of extracting and transporting this highly dangerous oil.
To see this post on its home site visit Desmogblog.
Yesterday we posted news about the massive oil train explosion and fire, with 21 Bakken Shale oil train cars still burning as of Monday night in Casselton, North Dakota. But you really have to see this 29-second video to begin to comprehend just how dramatic and dangerous these explosions are. Dan Gunderson posted the video on Youtube. These shale oil trains run through densely populated neighborhoods in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and other East Coast states as well as through towns, ranches and farms throughout the West and Midwest.
International Business Times included the video, along with photos of a “vast plume of smoke” in their story, “Oil train collision in North Dakota Sets Off Fireball, Forces Evacuation in Casselton“:
Local officials said they heard a series of blasts following the collision, including one at 3:40 p.m. Windows shook at the city auditor’s office…
The train cars were still burning four hours later as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out…
The tracks that the train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and [Sheriff's Sgt. Tara] Morris said it was “a blessing it didn’t happen within the city.”
The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK).
Huffington Post also included raw footage in their story about the incident, “Train Derailment Causes Fiery Destruction in Casselton, ND.”
Earth First! Journal included a photo and video in their December 30th post, “Oil Train Derails Causing Explosions, Hazmat Incident in North Dakota.” We know now that at least 21 train cars burned, not seven or ten, as initially reported. And we know that residents of Casselton were later not just told to “stay indoors” but actually evacuated. The evacuation remained in effect until about 12 hours ago. Residents in a five-mile radius were advised to leave to avoid smoke inhalation, as well. So the incident and its aftermath grew beyond initial reports. But Earth First! did a good job raising the question of what kind of hazmat incident this is, and putting the incident into a fuller political context, so we are posting it in full below:
from Micah Grimes on Twitter
from Earth First! Newswire:
A 106-car-long oil train derailed today and was hit by another train in Casselton, North Dakota, causing seven oil cars to explode as of 3:30pm.
Cass County Sgt. Dean Haaland reports that emergency responders are attempting to separate all other oil trains. Plumes of thick, black smoke are visible from 15 miles outside of town.
No injuries have been reported yet, however, City Auditor Sheila Klevgard has warned residents that “there is a Hazmat incident west of town.” Residents are advised to remain in their houses.
“The sky is totally black from smoke,” local resident Eva Fercho said. “I could almost feel the house shake in that (second explosion). It was loud.”
Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth denies knowing the destination or point of origin of the train, but that the direction of the train was eastbound.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains were likely from the Bakken Shale area, which is the highest-producing oil region in the mainland USA.
Bakken oil is notoriously flammable.
Earlier this year, a train running through Canada from the Bakken region derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing half of the city center and killing scores of people.
Another train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Alabama in November, causing the explosion of 11 oil cars and 90-foot-tall flames. [* Other observers estimated the flames in Alabama at 300 feet: see this post and photo -- Ed.]
A majority share of BNSF was purchased in 2009 by Warren Buffet, and has since risen from a relatively small corporation to the second largest railroad company in the US—almost entirely due to the increase of oil-by-rail networks programmed after the purchase of the railroad company by Warren Buffet.
Canadian oil-by-rail shipments rose from several hundred in 2009 to 140,000 this year. US oil-by-rail shipments rose more than 400 per cent from 2005 to today.
Oil-by-rail transportation is seen by the industry as an alternative to pipelines, which are meeting widespread popular resistance throughout North America. Opponents of oil-by-rail shipments insist that its rapid increase, matched with the several cases of derailments and explosions this year, prove it is an unstable and unsustainable practice.
Oil-by-rail terminals are proposed for the Pacific Northwest, including Vancouver, Washington.
On November 4, Rising Tide and allies shut down the Port of Vancouver in solidarity with locked out ILWU workers, and in protest against the Port’s approval of a Tesoro-Savage oil terminal that would receive and process oil-by-rail shipments from the Bakken shale and, likely, the Alberta tar sands.
Fourth Major Explosion of Shale Oil Trains in Six Months
Breaking: By yesterday evening, 21 cars were on fire, defying attempts to minimize another devastating oil train tableau of destruction. During the day yesterday, on Monday, December 30th, media reports said that ten cars of a North Dakota oil train burst into flames, with “at least five powerful explosions,” as reported by the New York Times:
At least 10 tank cars burst into flames on Monday after a train carrying crude oil struck another train about a mile outside the small town of Casselton, state officials said. The accident, which caused at least five powerful explosions, occurred after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed and an eastbound train hauling oil ran into it, said Cecily Fong, public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.
Officials encouraged residents within a five-mile radius to evacuate, to avoid contact with the toxic smoke.
Two mile-long Bakken Shale oil and gas trains come through Philadelphia every day, endangering densely populated neighborhoods. Community leaders have not been informed or consulted regarding safety and evacuation plans as the dangerous trains, with their abysmal record, have ramped up. Health and safety impacts include the trains’ off-gassing of hydrocarbons while sitting still on hot tracks in the summertime, as well as the dangers of derailment, explosions, fire and smoke.
StateImpact PA reporter Katie Colaneri posted this breaking story two hours ago:
Federal transportation safety officials are on the scene in North Dakota where a BNSF train carrying crude oil from the Bakken Shale collided with another train and exploded Monday afternoon, the latest in a rash of incidents in the crude-by-rail boom.
Around 2:10 p.m. yesterday afternoon, an eastbound crude oil unit train collided with a westbound grain train that had derailed on an adjacent track. The collision caused the unit train to derail and set off a series of explosions. As of Monday evening, 21 cars were on fire, according to a statement from BNSF. Residents in nearby Casselton, North Dakota have been evacuated.
Bloomberg reports it is the fourth serious accident involving crude oil trains in North America in the last six months.
The final destination of the mile-long unit train is not yet clear. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said the agency “is focusing on safety” in the immediate area of the explosion.
Rail shipments ramped up in 2013 to keep pace with oil production in the Bakken which is soon expected to hit one million barrels per day. Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the single largest consumer of Bakken crude, accepting two trainloads or 160,000 barrels of oil each day as of this fall. The refinery cut the ribbon on a new state-of-the-art rail unloading facility in South Philadelphia in October.
Read the full StateImpact PA story here.
Please begin the New Year by writing your local elected officials to ask what the evacuation plan is for your neighborhood if a Bakken Shale train is traveling within five miles of you. The trains carry fracked oil, and fracked gas: some of the tank cars that have exploded in previous incidents carried LPG, Liquified Petroleum Gas, commonly known as propane, a lucrative product of shale fracking.
For starters, if you live within five miles of 30th Street Station, in Center City Philadelphia; or within five miles of where the Lincoln Drive / Ridge Avenue exit comes off the Schuylkill Expressway; or within five miles of Bartrams Garden in West Philadelphia; or within five miles of Philadelphia Energy Solutions in Southwest Philadelphia… that means you.
Ready to evacuate? If not, start telling your electeds you don’t want that shale train — which is helping to destroy our climate, contributing to health harms on the Wind River Indian Reservation and elsewhere in North Dakota; and contributing disproportionately to future sea level rise — anywhere near you.
Think locally, act globally. And think globally, act locally. When it comes to the Bakken Shale oil trains campaign, it all comes together. Start the new year by acting for climate justice while protecting our communities!
Yesterday, after over a year of deliberations and appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the Commonwealth Court ruling against Act 13′s restrictions on municipalities’ ability to plan and protect their landscape and properties in a 4-2 decision. Under Act 13, municipalities had to allow fracking infrastructure within a few hundred feet of schools, non-leased farms, and homes, no matter what the towns’ residents preferred.
Act 13′s “pre-emption clause,” as it came to be called, literally threw Pennsylvania municipalities’ environmental and democratic rights under the bus.
In July of 2012, the Commonwealth Court had ruled those restrictions “unconstitutional and unenforceable” under Pennsylvania’s Constitution, but Governor Corbett and the industry, of course, appealed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments over a year ago, in October 2012, and had been in deliberation until yesterday.
This is a huge, long-awaited victory for everyone who treasures Pennsylvania’s landscape, the environment, public health, and their constitutional rights!
Last September, the City of Philadelphia took a stand against Act 13′s pre-emption clause, bringing the local governments in Pennsylvania taking an active stand in favor of declaring it unconstitutional to 89. The complete list of municipalities, and over 40 other entities, taking that stand is here: Wave of Dissent.
In their Decision, the Justices had harsh words for Corbett and the fracking industry’s attempts to take the rights and powers of local government and individuals, as well as the industry’s destruction of our environment, health, and democracy.
“As the citizens illustrate, development of the natural gas industry in the Commonwealth unquestionably has and will have a lasting, and undeniably detrimental, impact on the quality of these core aspects [life, health, and liberty: surface and ground water, ambient air, etc.] of Pennsylvania’s environment, which are part of the public trust.” Opinion at 117.
“By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” Opinion at 118.
The Justices concluded that the Act forced some citizens to bear “heavier environmental and habitability burdens than others” in violation of Section 27’s mandate that public trust resources be managed for the benefit of all the people. This is key to the Decision and key to our work. Some supporters of fracking, often well-insulated from fracking themselves, claim that fracking opponents only fight to preserve their own backyards. In reality, we fight for the rights and health of all people. We want to keep these toxic, destructive industries out of everyone’s backyards.
But wait, there’s more good news! Gag order reconsidered:
While this historic decision would have been enough, the Supreme Court’s ruling went even further than the Commonwealth Court ruling. The lower court had found that Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Delaware Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum, and Dr. Mehernosh Khan did not have standing as plaintiffs in the case. Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Delaware Riverkeeper fought Act 13 on behalf of local residents, while Dr. Khan pre-emptively challenged Act 13′s gag order on physicians attempting to treat people suffering the health impacts of fracking.
Under the Act 13 gag order, doctors are able to beg fracking corporations for information about the chemical composition of fracking fluid to which a sick patient has been exposed, and the corporations must provide that information — but only if the doctor signs a gag order promising never to share that information with anyone — journalists, physicians, neighbors, public health advocates, and possibly not even with the patient.
Further, fracking corporations are NOT obliged to disclose any of the other toxic contaminants in flowback because those are “naturally occurring,” so even if a corporation knows that deadly levels of arsenic, Radium 226, etc. are in flowback, and even if the patient exposed to flowback is literally dying, the corporation is not obliged to share that information about its own flowback to save the life of the patient. The gag order thus both fails to protect the individual patient, and prevents physicians from warning their community about health impacts occurring from “proprietary” chemicals used in shale gas drilling.
The lower court ruled that since Dr. Khan had not yet faced the dilemma of being unable to disclose that information, he did not yet have standing to challenge the rule. However, the State Supreme Court overturned that judgment, thereby sending Dr. Khan’s case back to the lower court (the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court) for reevaluation.
Good News All Over: Relentless Persistence Works!
Victory in Franklin Forks
Summary from Iris Marie Bloom:
This week began with a victory of David vs. Goliath proportions when three families from Franklin Forks, in Pennsylvania’s beautiful, but badly fracked, Susquehanna County, joined with grassroots organizers in resisting the removal of their clean water tanks — called water buffaloes. Those water buffaloes are the only protection the families, including Tammy Manning’s family, have from water contaminated by shale gas drilling.
In Franklin Forks, the industry bowed to the power of the movement for justice and environmental protection. With tactics ranging from a planned nonviolent civil disobedience action, to persuading two gubernatorial candidates to intervene on the families’ behalf, to calling a press conference on-site at the time and place when the life-saving equipment was to be removed, the movement won. The clean water tanks stayed. StateImpact PA reported on this important victory here.
Similarly, the Supreme Court decision yesterday is a vindication of the point of view that activists from all over Pennsylvania and beyond have been tirelessly advocating for three years, ever since Act 13 was first introduced. The people have suffered — the people have gotten up at 4 AM to travel to testify, the people have given up family time, the people have worked and testified and analyzed and met and lobbied and demonstrated and risen up; and the people have won.
In Latin America, this kind of dedication is called “Firmezza Permanente,” which translates to “Relentless Persistence” in English. Up against the richest industry in the world — oil and gas — nothing less than Firmezza Permanente is required to win. With two major victories in Pennsylvania in one week, it’s clear that as Nelson Mandela knew, and as Martin Luther King said, “the moral arm of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Testimony opposing the proposed fracked gas pipeline through the pristine Pine Barrens of New Jersey must be emailed to the Pinelands Commission by 5pm Friday December 13.
Email to: email@example.com
Subject heading: “Official MOA Testimony”
(MOA refers to Memorandum of Agreement, the rule the Commissioners are trying to pass which would enable them, legally, to violate their own rules, their own principles, and their own pledge to protect the Pine Barrens.)
Feel free to use all or part of letter below; please customize it to include a few original words from you. You may email this from anywhere, because the New Jersey Pine Barrens are a national and international treasure. Specific information on gas pipelines’ impacts on land, water, air, forests, ecosystems, climate, animal and human health, and public safety is valuable. But even a few words can make a difference: please get this comment out the door!
Short and sweet letter from Ann Dixon, veteran organizer with Protecting Our Waters:
Dear Pinelands Commissioners,
I strongly object to the building of the proposed SJ Gas / BL England Pipeline through the Pinelands. The Comprehensive Management Plan prohibits using the Forest Management Area as a transit route for pipelines, unless it is “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands.” N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23.
Clearly, the pipeline will only hurt the needs of the Pinelands. This unique ecosystem needs to be protected for the benefit of wildlife as well as humans. Pipelines leak toxic materials into water tables. They also explode. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration lists many accidents and problems associated with gas lines.
(Your name and contact information)
Background: Initial talking points are here. More information on the project and controversy is available from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, this Philadelphia Inquirer article, or the Pinelands Commission itself.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments by 5PM–even a few words in opposition to the project helps!
If you would like, bcc email@example.com to help us keep track of how many comments are flowing in! Thanks!