An eyewitness noted when thirteen railroad tanker cars carrying propane and crude oil across Alberta, Canada exploded after derailing early on October 20, “the fireball was so big, it shot across both lanes of the Yellowhead (Highway)… there’s fire on both sides.”
Only two Canadian National Railway workers were injured and no deaths have been reported in this latest “pipeline on rails” calamity, but the horrific accident comes just three months after a similar oil train disaster in a populated area that took 47 lives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
It is too early to determine the cause of the latest accident, although Canadian investigators believe the Quebec carnage is due to the train operator’s criminal negligence.
But the real criminal negligence is that oil from fracking operations in booming North Dakota must be shipped by trains over a thousand miles to refiners in Nova Scotia because U.S. regulators and their crony allies have fought building pipelines to protect and subsidize the profits of railroads, such as the Burlington Northern Railway Company that controls half the business.
Given the huge risks of catastrophic loss of life and property, the Obama Administration will soon be pressured to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.
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Every day, an average of ten trains with up to 100 tank-cars leaves North Dakota carrying 3.35 million gallons of raw crude oil to journey over a thousand miles to refineries in Nova Scotia and Texas. Railroads carry 75% of North Dakota oil and are the prime reason oil hauled by tank cars in the U.S. rose over the last three years by 2,000% to a total of 6.5 billion gallons. Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO, Warren Buffet, announced that profit jumped 7.8% to $2.37 billion on strong railroad profits at their Burlington Northern subsidiary.
Railroads are designed to transport freight where people are, whereas pipelines carry toxic products and go to refineries that are specifically located at safe distances away from populated areas. Some media stories have repeated public relations statements from the oil industry that they prefer a mix of pipeline and rail transport of crude oil. But only good fortune prevented the Alberta “pipeline on wheels” accident from killing thousands and costing tens of millions in damages in a metropolitan area.
Railroads claimed to average only thirteen spills per year for the last ten years, but 60% of oil shipments by rail were in the last two years. There have been many serious oil train derailments this year. In June, four Canadian Pacific (CP) rail cars carrying flammable petrochemicals used to dilute oil derailed on a flood-damaged bridge spanning Calgary’s Bow River. In May, five tankers containing oil on another CP train derailed in rural Saskatchewan spilling 575 barrels of crude oil, the Toronto Sun reported.