Sunday, November 01, 2015

Preventing a crude oil train disaster in Rochester, NY too

You don’t need to understand French to understand this short video taken during the “Catastrophe à Lac-Mégantic.” [

Some background. The opening speaker at the “Oil-by-Rail: What’s Next” meeting in Albany on October 24th was a citizen from the small village of Lac Mégantic, Canada. Marilaine Savard, community leader from Lac-Mégantic--Quebec’s Citizens Committee--shared that community’s journey since the July 6, 2013 rail disaster. Marilaine showed the above video taken by a friend to a group of concerned groups from around New York State.

Her friend Adrien Aubert, risking life and limb, started taping this video from his cell phone immediately after the explosion—but it has only been recently released online. It’s raw and brutal, which can be felt regardless of what language you speak and seen when Adrien turns the camera on himself near the end of this powerful video.

The facts of the disaster are quickly summed up in Wikipedia:

“The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster occurred in the town of Lac-Mégantic, located in the Eastern Townships of the Canadian province of Quebec, at approximately 01:15 EDT, on July 6, 2013, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade hill from Nantes and derailed downtown, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead. More than 30 buildings in the town's centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed and all but three of the thirty-nine remaining downtown buildings are to be demolished due to petroleum contamination of the townsite. Initial newspaper reports described a 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) blast radius.” Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

But this description doesn’t quite cover the emotional toll which has taken this small village almost two years to begin their recovery. Now folks in Lac-Mégantic are starting to reach out to the world to help them find an economic recovery for their town that doesn’t rely on sending volatile crude oil through their beloved town and risking their lives many times each day. Our friends from Lac-Mégantic also want communities like Rochester to understand that we are subject to the same kind of threat as they were.

Senator Schumer has been trying to improve the safety of trains hauling crude oil for some time. Local firefighters are training for crude oil railcar accidents, though there’s no way to prepare for the kind of spectacular explosions when several ‘Bomb Train’ railcars blow up at once. Most of the folks who perished in Lac-Mégantic could not have been saved by any rescue team, no matter how well trained the first responders were, because the deaths occurred instantaneously from a fireball that rose hundreds of feet into the air.

Folks tend to ask when first learning about these crude oil railcar concerns, “Well, how else are we going to get our oil?” And we are told that we must provide an alternative to Bomb Trains by shifting dramatically to renewable energy. Which is the right thing to do. But when you think about it, shouldn’t the grave threat of a Lac-Mégantic-like disaster be enough of a reason to fix the problem right now—without the caveat that activists must come up with solution first? (If your neighbor likes blowing things up, should you be required to find something else for him to do before you complain?)

What can you do locally about this on-going crisis? Check this out recent press release:

“Mothers Out Front” Demonstrating in Fairport to Raise Awareness of the Dangers of Explosive Oil Trains

Fairport, New York Tuesday - November 3, 2015 Explosive oil trains are traveling right through the heart of Rochester. They travel through town centers, busy retail areas and right over High Falls. The oil in these tanker cars is more explosive than regular crude because it is obtained through a fracking process from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota. This “Bakken” oil has much higher levels of suspended volatile natural gas liquids. There have been over 30 derailments and explosions in recent years, including one in Canada that resulted in 47 deaths and the destruction of a town.

Each tanker car carries 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude, and according to the City newspaper, up to 300 of these tanker cars pass through Monroe County daily. The area within half a mile from the tracks in immediate danger from an explosion is considered the “Blast Zone,” and the evacuation zone is within a mile from the tracks. But the danger from toxic vapors that such an explosion would emit extends far beyond that. The tanker cars puncture at less than 20 mph. If even one tanker car explodes, it will require a multiagency disaster response for Monroe County. The public is urged to learn more and sign the petition at

Local “Mothers Out Front” members and allies will be demonstrating in Fairport where the railroad tracks cross North Main Street. So many people are simply unaware of the danger these “bomb” trains pose to the town and its citizens. The demonstration will occur on Tuesday November 3, 2015 from 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM.

Mothers Out Front is an organization of mothers, grandmothers, and allies, organizing to address the climate crisis by calling for a just, swift, and complete transition off of fossil fuels to clean energy. For more information contact:

Keri Kaminsky, Bakken Team Leader, Mothers Out Front

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