Despite Lac-Megantic Disaster, Crude-by-Rail Industry Booming

'An additional increase in these shipments will only increase risks to our communities,' say opponents

Despite an announcement this week from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA)--the company responsible for last month's lethal train derailment in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic--that it will discontinue its transportation of oil, other railway companies, seeing an opportunity, are likely to pick up the pace of their own rail shipments.

In a welcome, but possibly temporary, victory for opponents of the dangerous trains, MMA chairman Ed Burkhardt announced Monday that transporting the dirty crude has "proven to be more trouble than it's worth," adding, "I guess that's putting this mildly."

The town of Lac-Megantic is still cleaning up the massive mess left behind after the MMA train that was hauling about 50,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick, derailed and exploded in the small town, killing forty-seven people and causing untold environmental damage.

"We don't plan to continue with oil transportation," Burkhardt said.

However, this is not the end of oil transport from North Dakota to Canada's pristine Atlantic coast. As Burkhardt noted, "That traffic is going to go other ways, not over our lines."

Those in the region who have rallied against the trains both before and after the Lac-Megantic accident, were happy but cautious about the announcement.

"While we're glad that MMA will no longer be transporting Bakken crude," Meaghan Lasala of 350 Maine told Common Dreams, "we have concerns that those shipments will be picked up by other rail lines like Pan Am that are equally unsafe." The New England-based Pan Am rail company is "already transporting oil on outdated and unregulated infrastructure," said Lasala. "An additional increase in these shipments will only increase risks to our communities."

"The MMA decision to cease transport of oil will not prevent Irving from fulfilling their shipment deals," Lasala added. "Whether it is transported by rail, barge or pipeline, Bakken oil continues to ravage communities in North Dakota, and it continues to wreck our climate."

Both crude and tar sands oil transport by way of rail is increasing in other parts of Canada and the U.S. as well.

The Canadian company Gibson Energy Inc. and the U.S. Development Group (USDG) announced Tuesday their plan to build a 140,000-barrel-per-day terminal in Hardisty, Alberta--the site of Canada's massive tar sands fields--to ship toxic oil products by rail throughout North America.

"The project would be the largest terminal for western Canada," Reuters reports, "where demand to move crude by rail has been gathering pace as producers look for ways to ease congested export pipelines."

As Reuters notes, the announcement emphasizes "how the runaway fuel-train accident that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last month appeared unlikely to halt Canada's crude-by-rail boom."


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