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A fiery train crash in West Virginia had displaced roughly 2,400 people as of Tuesday, January 17, 2015. (Photo: AP)

After Latest US Oil Train Disaster, Expert Says Tens of Millions Living Inside 'Blast Zone'

'We need to be moving away from production, transportation and use of fossil fuels, period—if we want a livable planet, that is.'

Lauren McCauley

Fires continued to smolder Tuesday morning as emergency crews assessed the damage after a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded near the Mt. Carbon area of Fayette County, West Virginia.

"Whether it is explosive Bakken crude or toxic Alberta tar sands this extreme oil cannot be transported safely by train. Twenty-five million Americans live in the blast zone and nearly everyone else lives downstream of an oil train route."
—Todd Paglia, ForestEthics

Roughly 2,400 people have been evacuated or displaced by the derailment, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the fire burned power lines, knocking out power to roughly 900 Appalachian Power customers.

According to Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre, the derailed CSX Corp oil train was hauling 109 cars—107 of which were carrying 33,000 gallons each of crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to a terminal in Yorktown, Virginia.

As the second oil train disaster in as many days, environmentalists and safety advocates say that the incident highlights an urgent need for significant safety reforms.

Thus far, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has primarily focused on the need to update oil-by-rail car safety, particularly older models of the DOT-111 tank car, the most common type of tank car, which inspectors say lacks adequate protections in derailments involving hazardous materials.

However, following Monday's derailment, a CSX spokesperson confirmed that all of the oil tank cars on the derailed train were CPC 1232 models, which Reuters describes as "the newer, supposedly tougher version of the DOT-111 cars."

In a statement to Common Dreams, Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Mollie Matteson explained that the CPC 1232 is "little better" than its predecessor in incidents involving any speed and also "has proven to be highly vulnerable on impact." Further, its the model that ruptured in the derailment on the very same rail line in Lynchburg, Virginia last April.

Echoing those concerns, executive director of ForestEthics Todd Paglia said: "Whether it is explosive Bakken crude or toxic Alberta tar sands this extreme oil cannot be transported safely by train. Twenty-five million Americans live in the blast zone and nearly everyone else lives downstream of an oil train route."

As the White House works to develop new safety regulations for transporting oil-by-rail, Paglia says the administration needs "to take a close look at the events of this weekend," referring to the derailments in West Virginia as well as in Ontario, Canada on Sunday. "No tank car is safe to carry this dangerous cargo."

And while politicians often pivot on oil-by-rail accidents as arguments for pipelines, advocates say that such thinking is industry-driven and short-sighted.

"The oil industry actually wants both rail and pipelines, and is lobbying hard for them, as well as whatever other means it can use to move its product to market at the lowest cost to the industry," Matteson continued. "Unfortunately, it comes at high cost to public safety and the environment, and if that isn't plain from the images of giant fireballs all over the continent, I don't know what is."

She continued: "For the shorter term, we do need sturdier cars, and shorter trains, and trains that aren't going so fast. And we also need safer rail lines that are built for 21st, not 19th, century use. We also need to not be transporting highly flammable oil through cities and towns and along sensitive waterways and wildlife habitat."

"But, longer term," Matteson continued, "we need to be moving away from production, transportation and use of fossil fuels, period—if we want a livable planet, that is."

The derailment occurred at roughly 1:20 pm in a small town roughly 33 miles southeast of Charleston.

Though the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has previously refused to provide information on the frequency of such shipments, the news organization estimates that two to five Bakken trains traverse West Virginia each week.

Daily Mail journalist Marcus Constantino shared images on his Twitter account of the devastation following Monday's crash.


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