Oil Train Explosion: Tragic Reminder of High Cost of Fossil Fuel Dependency
Explosion follows recent direct action against oil train transport: "It's devastating that the the thing we were most afraid of happening did."
Fires continue to burn in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec on Sunday—over twenty-four hours after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the community's downtown, engulfing the area in flames and black smoke.
With many individuals still missing, rescuers have begun the process of sifting through embers searching for remains.
"Three bodies have been found," police spokesman Michel Brunet told reporters. "There are still people who have been reported as missing or unaccounted for. We can’t give you a number. We know there will be other deaths."
The terrible irony of the explosion is not lost on local environmentalists who, just last week, blockaded a set of railroad tracks passing through the nearby town of Fairfield, Maine to stop a train carrying 70,000 barrels of "fracked oil" on its way to the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
The action was meant to draw attention to the "fracked oil" that is quietly being transported through small towns in Canada and Maine on a regular basis.
"It's not lost on any of us that this is exactly what we were pointing out could happen in Maine, with millions of barrels being transported across the state each year," Meaghan LaSala, an organizer with 350 Maine—which was behind the direct action—told Common Dreams. "Our hearts are going out to the people in Quebec right now."
"It's devastating that, so close to our action, the thing we were most afraid of happening did," she added.
Lac-Megantic, which sits just miles over the border from Maine, is one of thousands of small towns through which trains carry crude, fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields of the northern midwest United States and central Canada to the Irving refinery.
LaSala points out that, while the industry and an economy based on fossil fuels are destroying the communities surrounding the oil fields where the fracking occurs, the transportation of such volatile and toxic fuel "also destroys the communities along the way."
"The industry has built up rail as the safest way to transport [this fuel]. We know that pipelines are more dangerous—partly because of volume, when they do spill it's a much bigger disaster. Also, the number of incidents are even higher," said LaSala.
But, she adds, they wanted to do the direct action to point out that trains aren't safe either. "It's never safe to transport fossil fuels...the emphasis [for the industry] is not on safety."
Back in Lac-Megantic, fire officials confirmed that three out of the five tankers that were burning had been extinguished with foam while two more are still on fire and are at risk of explosion, CBC reports.
Crews have not yet been able to tally the amount of crude oil that was spilled from the wrecked train. Reports estimate that a large amount had poured into the Chaudière River, with residents reporting that the water has turned shades of orange.
— Mike Armstrong (@ArmstrongGN) July 7, 2013
Further updates on the situation can be found on twitter: