Oil Train Derailment in Ontario is Latest in String of Fiery, Disastrous Incidents

For Immediate Release

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Mollie Matteson, 802-318-1487, or mmatteson@biologicaldiversity.org

Oil Train Derailment in Ontario is Latest in String of Fiery, Disastrous Incidents

TIMMINS, Ontario - A train carrying 100 tank cars of crude oil has derailed and exploded in Canada, the latest in a string of fiery accidents involving oil trains in Canada and the United States, which have increased dramatically in recent years. The latest incident happened late Saturday night in a remote area of northern Ontario. Twenty-nine of 100 cars derailed and at least seven were on fire; there have been no reports yet of whether oil has been spilled.

“It’s disturbing to see yet another oil train go off the tracks with disastrous consequences,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s clearly time to take action on the growing use of the oil trains that are putting people, wildlife and the environment at serious risk. What happened in Ontario could happen anywhere along the thousands of miles of tracks that oil trains use every day in the United States.”

Oil transport, especially by rail, has dramatically increased in recent years, growing from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 400,000 rail cars of oil in 2013. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill-equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring. A series of fiery oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada has resulted in life-threatening explosions and millions of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.

The worst was a derailment in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. The most recent explosive derailment occurred in April of last year, in downtown Lynchburg, Va., resulting in crude oil leaking out of punctured tank cars, setting the James River on fire.

Ethanol shipments by rail have also raised safety concerns. On Feb. 4, a train transporting ethanol derailed along the Mississippi River in Iowa, catching fire and sending an unknown amount of ethanol into the river.

Last week the U.S. Department of Transportation sent new rules governing oil train safety to the White House for review, prior to public release. It will be another three months before the rules are published, and at least another two and a half years before the most dangerous tank cars are phased out of use for the most hazardous cargos. The oil and railroad industries have lobbied for weaker rules on tank car safety and brake requirements. The industries also want more time to comply with the new rules.

Without regulations that will effectively prevent derailments and rupture of tank cars, oil trains will continue to threaten people, drinking water supplies and wildlife, including endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned for oil trains that include far fewer tank cars and for comprehensive oil spill response plans for railroads as well as other important federal reforms, and is also pushing to stop the expansion of projects that will facilitate further increases in crude by rail.

“Time and again we’ve seen these oil trails catch fire, spill oil, take lives and leave behind huge messes,” said Matteson. “It’s got to stop. This latest incident in Ontario needs to spur swifter action to address the growing danger of a massive increase of oil transport on our railways.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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