Two Oil Train Derailments and Spills Only Eight Days Apart
As the transportation of oil by rail is increasing at alarming rates, the number of derailments and spills is also increasing. The latest reported derailment and spill occurred May 9, 2014 in northern Colorado, only 8 days following a derailment and major spill in Virginia.
Six Union Pacific Railroad tank cars of a 100-car oil train derailed last Friday morning, May 9, west of LaSalle about 45 miles north of Denver, Colorado (Denver Post, Associated Press). The derailed cars toppled along the banks of the South Platte River, some of them ending upside down. At least one tank car spilled about 6,500 gallons of crude oil at a rate of 20-50 gallons per minute. Oil booms were placed on the river, but no oil was reported to have entered the river. The train was loaded in nearby Windsor with crude oil from the Niobrara shale formation and was heading for New York. The rail line was shut down for about 3 days. The extent of environmental damage was not disclosed. Contaminated soil will need to be removed and replaced with clean soil.
About 14 cars of a 105-car CSX train derailed April 30, 2014 in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, sending extensive flames and thick black smoke high into the air (Edmonton Journal, Huffington Post, plus other sources). Nearby buildings were evacuated and warnings were issued to avoid part of the city. About 4 tanker cars were punctured and at least 50,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled, some of it burning and some of it spilling into the James River. Firefighters let the fire burn out. At least 6 of the derailed tank cars rolled off the tracks and down the river bank, some falling right into the river. The train was heading from North Dakota to Yorkstown, Virginia. The extent of damage including to the environment is not known, although initial estimates suggest at least 20,000 gallons of oil spilled into the river and impacts might be felt as far as 150 miles downstream. The derailment occurred near a popular fishing spot on the James River.
For more information on the many risks associated with shipping oil by rail, see this link. As the rail industry’s bottom line continues to trump rail safety, we can expect the number of oil train derailments and spills to rise, posing threats to the environment, property and human safety.