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Bakken Shale

Bakken Bomb Trains: Hell on Rails

By x356039 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Over the past two years the volume of bakken crude oil, extracted from the tar sand fields of Alberta, Wyoming, Utah, North and South Dakota, has skyrocketed by an astonishing 900%. Thanks in part to the work of many brave communities in the line of fire and the logistical difficulties of building a continent-spanning pipeline the companies extracting this toxic material have sought out other methods for moving the volume of material they desire for export overseas to China and points beyond. The solution they have settled on is to move the bakken crude by oil trains, some stretching over a mile, owned by high-powered corporate captains of industry like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates from the point of extraction to the points of refinement and distribution.

They argue the materials being ripped from the Earth's crust are vitally necessary for energy independence and economic growth. What these self-interested short-sighted tycoons overlook is the truly massive cost in far more real terms than a mere bottom line such decisions are inflicting on people, communities, and the biosphere. In spite of the measured, massaged tones they use to assuage the fully-justified fears of the public there is little doubt the extraction, refinement, and movement of bakken crude by rail is a clear and present danger to all life in the path of these deadly horsemen.

The first and surest sign of the threat these bomb trains pose is the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. A small community located on Lake Megantic it is the sort of place, prior to the summer of 2013, one would never have expected to become associated with the worst rail disaster in Canadian history and one of the worst ever in North America. One fateful evening a bakken crude train was pulled off to a siding by its lone crew member so they could take a break from an extremely long shift and catch up on much needed sleep. During the night the brakes securing the train came loose and the train rolled off the track, tipping over and rupturing the tanks containing the highly volatile bakken crude. Thanks to the incredibly low flash point of bakken crude, due to the nature of the refining process, the entire train load went up in a flash obliterating a huge swath of Lac-Megantic. In the rushing inferno that followed 47 people's lives were mercilessly snuffed out, from young children to the elderly, without warning or any possibility of escape.

In the immediate wake firefighters from across Quebec and neighboring Maine were called in to bring the fires under control, do whatever they could for the survivors, and bury the dead. So great was the ferocity of the blaze following the disaster that nothing less than such a massive mobilization of emergency personnel would stand a chance. All were left stunned, shocked, and wondering how such a catastrophe could be visited on their homes with no warning of any kind. In the words of Tim Pellerin, fire chief for Rangeley, Maine, “It was like a World War II bombing zone. There was just block after block of everything incinerated. All that was left were foundations and chimneys. Everything burned. The buildings, the asphalt, the grass, the trees, the telephone poles. Just about everything was incinerated.” In the investigations following Lac-Megantic many facts came to light as to how so much harm could be caused, proving without question the devastation was no fluke but a very real, predictable possibility.

An Arresting Experience: Doing direct action at BNSF Delta Yard

By Patrick Mazza - Cascadia Planet, September 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Following is the story of why I and four others engaged in an act of civil resistance at BNSF Delta Yard in Everett, Washington September 2.  The act was intended to draw attention to a Petition for Redress of Grievances Inflicted by Fossil Fuels.  Please sign our petition here

I am a veteran climate activist.  I have written about the climate crisis for over 25 years and for most of the last 15 worked full-time to advance climate solutions.  I have spent a lot of time trying to stop global warming sitting in front of a computer.  On September 2, 2014 it was time to sit in front of a train. 

Five of us attached ourselves to a tripod made of three 18-foot steel poles erected across a train track at Delta Junction, the north end of BNSF’s Everett Delta staging yard.  I locked myself at the foot of one of the poles.  School teachers Liz Spoerri and Jackie Minshew and coffee shop owner Mike Lapointe fastened themselves to the others. Abby Brockway, a house painter and artist, ascended to perch at the top.

Our banner, “Cut Oil Trains, Not Conductors,” expressed solidarity with railroad workers fighting against dangerous, single-person train crews.  During the day the action drew numerous supporting honks from truckers driving across the bridge above.

Around 150 yards to the south an orange BNSF engine was linked at the head of a black mile-long snake of tanker cars filled with North Dakota Bakken shale oil.  This is the same extraordinarily unstable crude that on July 6, 2013 leveled several city blocks and incinerated 47 people at Lac-Megantic on the Quebec-Maine border.  That exploded in fireballs after derailments October 19, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta and November 8, 2013 in Aliceville, Alabama. A derailment and fire December 30, 2013 in Casselton, North Dakota erupted in a toxic plume that forced evacuations in a five-mile radius.  Another Bakken train derailed and was engulfed in flames January 7, 2014 in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.

Every week oil trains each carrying up to three million gallons of volatile Bakken crude trundle through Seattle 8 to 13 times and Washington up to 19 times, according to BNSF’s own figures. Sightline's Eric de Place reports that oil unit train traffic through Washington has risen from essentially zero in August 2012 to an average of 2.6 trains a day. They run past stadiums and heavily populated neighborhoods, and through tunnels underneath Seattle and Everett.  Just this July 24 a nearly 100-tanker train derailed beneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle.  Fortunately no toxic fireball . . . this time.

Seattle Activists Mount Tripod: Stop Exploding Oil Trains

By Rising Tide Cascadia - Rising Tide North America, September 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

UPDATE 3:32pm PDT: Abby has been extracted after an epic 8 hour blockade. Donate to get all five awesome climate defenders out of jail!

Five residents of Seattle and Everett, WA, working with Rising Tide Seattle, have stopped work at a Burlington Northern Santa-Fe Rail Yard in Everett by erecting a tripod-structure on the outbound railroad tracks, directly in front of a mile-long oil train. Follow Rising Tide Seattle for live updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Seattle resident Abby Brockway – a small business owner, and mother – is suspended from the structure 18 feet above the tracks while four other residents are locked to the legs the tripod. The group is demanding an immediate halt to all shipments of fossil fuels through the Northwest and calling on Governor Inslee to reject permits for all new fossil fuel projects in Washington, including proposed coal and oil terminals.

Donate to support Abby and the other involved in the action!

“People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” said Brockway, “Just one of these proposed terminals would process enough carbon to push us past the global warming tipping point – we won’t let that happen.”

Today’s protest has shut down work at BNSF’s Delta Rail Yard in Everett. With the increase of fossil fuel transport in recent years the yard has become a crucial staging ground for coal trains headed to Canadian export terminals and oil trains bound for Washington refineries. An oil-train carrying explosive bakken crude oil sat stalled while the protest continued.

“Exploding oil-trains running through my town are just a reminder of how out of control the fossil fuel industry really is,” said Jackie Minchew an Everett resident and retired educator locked to one of the tripod’s poles.

In a controversial move, Burlington Northern Santa-Fe recently announced a tentative deal with Union leaders to reduce train crews from an engineer and conductor to a single engineer. The oil train that de-railed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was crewed by a single engineer. BNSF claims that oil-trains will continue to have two person crews, but critics point out that nothing in the proposed contract binds the company to that statement. Under the proposed deal Coal Trains would be operated by a single crew-member.

“BNSF is endangering workers, communities and our environment. They should keep the conductors and lose the oil trains,” said Brockway.

The surge in oil-train traffic is already impacting other commodities like passenger rail and agricultural shipments. Farmers from the Midwest to Washington State have faced what they call “unprecedented” delays in moving Wheat and other products to West Coast ports. Amtrak service through fossil-fuel train corridors has also suffered significant disruption and officials have expressed concern that the problem will only get worse as more terminals come online.

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, August 19 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

“This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

This Documentary About “Bomb Trains” Filled with Crude Oil Will Make Your Head Explode

By Ted Alvarez - Grist, July 29 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.

Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)

Dam Line 9 protesters blockade Enbridge pipeline work site in Southern Ontario, halting activities

By Sara Sullivan - Climate Connections, August 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“Dam Line 9″ protesters gathered Tuesday morning at a work site along Enbridge’s pipeline in Southern Ontario near the Thames River, stopping work on a valve on Line 9. The valve is intended as a fix, which the protesters see as entirely inadequate–a band-aid on the much larger problems of the pipeline itself and Enbridge’s plans for it. As the Alternative Journal reports:

Enbridge recently received approval from the National Energy Board to reverse the flow of the pipeline and pump tar sands bitumen through it, from Sarnia, ON to Montreal. It will also carry fracked Bakken shale oil.

Moreover, the valve is not even being set up to protect to Thames River. On Tuesday morning, they released the following statement explaining their reasons for blockading the work site of the valve:

[This] construction will not add any protection against a leak of toxic diluted bitumen into this important water source as it is located on the far side of the river. Line 9 is the same age and design as the Enbridge pipeline which caused the largest in-land oil spill in American history. Enbridge has identified more than 12,000 flaws in Line 9’s structure, and the line has already leaked at least 35 times in less than 40 years.

“This construction project is a band-aid attempt and Line 9 is too old and damaged to operate safely.  The new valves aren’t designed to protect rivers, they’re designed to maximise the amount of bitumen that can flow through the line,” says Sarah Scanlon, activist.

“We’ve tried pursuing avenues with the National Energy Board and within local and regional governments. The concerns expressed by individual people and municipalities were ignored.  The official processes have merely rubber-stamped dangerous tar sands projects and failed to protect us, so we are here out of necessity,” says Rachel Avery, a blockader. “This project is also being illegally forced through without meaningful consultation of Indigenous communities. For example, the Chippewas of the Thames have appealed the NEB approval, but Enbridge has continued to work on the line regardless,” Avery continued.

More than half a million people rely on drinking water provided by the Thames Watershed.  Rare species such as the eastern spiny softshell turtle, queen snake, black redhorse and Virginia Opossum rely on its specific ecosystems. Food growers have relied on its fertile valley for over 11 000 years.  This construction site is less than a kilometre from the river, and is in the middle of active farm land.

[...]

Line 9 is one of many proposed pipeline projects in so-called Canada slated to carry tar sands and fracked Bakken shale oil to the coast for export.  Tar sands bitumen is the dirtiest oil in the world.  Its extraction and refinement require mass deforestation, irreversible water contamination, climate-changing carbon emissions, and toxic industrial waste. The tar sands are killing people and environments every day on a local and global scale.

They stayed all day and through the night, regularly updating their Tumblr to explain their position, show the blockade camp, and counter Enbridge’s PR. They plan to stay indefinitely. Their Tumblr includes specific information on how to join if you can!

Seattle Activists Blocking Oil Trains Include City Council Member

By Jay Burney - Climate Connections, August 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Rising Tide Portland blogger Mike M posted that five protestors including  Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, and a candidate for the State House of Representatives Jess Spear, occupied railroad tracks in order to call attention to the proliferation of oil trains also known as “bomb trains” running through the streets of Seattle and throughout the Northwest. The protest took place at tracks along the Seattle waterfront near the Olympic Sculpture Park. Four were arrested, but not Sawant.

The protest was launched in part as a reaction to a July 24 derailment of a 100 car train carrying Bakken Oil.

Spear is quoted in the Rising Tide blog as saying:

“These oil trains running right through the downtown area pose a huge risk to life and to the environment. Luckily, last week’s derailment did not spill any oil; but we cannot rely on luck. We cannot stand idly by while these bombs on wheels roll through Seattle”.

Ms Sawant was quoted in another Seattle publication, The Stranger,  as saying that she is

“in solidarity with the three activists who have the courage of their convictions. It’s an enormous sacrifice to be arrested to raise awareness… I’m also here as someone who is on the city council and who takes the task of governance seriously. This is a matter of emergency that needs to be addressed”.

In a prepared statement read before the protest Ms. Sawant told those assembled:

One year ago, a similar train derailed and destroyed half the downtown area in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and led to 42 deaths. The fact that these train tracks run right by the stadiums, and through Belltown, where tens of thousands of people regularly gather, mean that there is potential for major catastrophe.

Warren Buffett Really Likes Oil Trains - Despite the Explosions

By Eric de Place - Vice News, July 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Watch the VICE News documentary "Bomb Trains" here.

The people in the Musi-Café had no idea what hit them. At about 1am on July 6, 2013, a train parked on a slope a couple miles away slipped its brakes. Seventy-two tank cars loaded with crude oil accelerated into the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and began to tumble off the tracks, detonating and burning with a force so powerful that it leveled several city blocks. Forty-seven people were killed — most of whom were inside the Musi-Café.

In the months that followed, Lac-Mégantic became a rallying cry, a bloody shirt waved by activists across North America who were growing increasingly concerned about a relatively new phenomenon: ultra-long trains loaded with a peculiar variety of crude oil.

Months later, after several other oil train accidents, Warren Buffett went on CNBC claiming that oil train explosions were “very, very, very, very rare.”

If Buffett sounded defensive, it may have been because he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail, an industry that he dominates and that has proven to be highly profitable for oil companies and railroads — and singularly dangerous to the public.

Oil drilling in North Dakota raises concerns about radioactive waste

By Neela Banerjee - LA Times, July 26, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

very weekday, about a dozen large garbage trucks peel away from the oil boom that has spread through western North Dakota to bump along a gravel road to the McKenzie County landfill.

The trucks drive up to a scale flanked by something seldom found in rural dumps — two 8-foot-tall yellow panels that essentially form a giant Geiger counter.

Two or three times a day, the radiation detector blares like a squad car, because under tons of refuse someone has stashed yard-long filters clotted with radioactive dirt from drilling sites.

The "socks" are supposed to be shipped to out-of-state processing plants. But some oil field operators, hoping to save tens of thousands of dollars, dump the socks in fields, abandoned buildings and landfills.

"It's a game of cat-and-mouse now," said Rick Schreiber, the landfill's director. "They put the sock in a bag inside a bag inside a bag."

Nearly 1,000 radioactive filters were found last year at the landfill, part of a growing tide of often toxic waste produced by the state's oil and gas rush. Oil field waste includes drill cuttings — rock and earth that come up a well bore — along with drilling fluids and wastewater laced with chemicals used in fracking.

To many local and tribal officials, environmentalists and some industry managers in North Dakota, the dumping of the socks and the proliferation of other waste shows the government falling short in safeguarding the environment against oil field pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency decided during the Reagan era to classify oil field waste as not hazardous, exempting it from tight controls and leaving it to be managed by widely varied state laws. Nationally, no one tracks how many millions of tons of waste the fossil fuel boom generates, or where it ends up.

The EPA exempts the waste, in part, because it considers state oversight adequate, despite what the agency calls "regulatory gaps in certain states."

Most oil companies dump drilling waste into thousands of pits by their wells, but North Dakota, the second-largest oil-producing state behind Texas, does not test the pits' contents or monitor nearby groundwater for contamination.

Read the rest of the article here.

BNSF Nears Shift To One-Member Crews, Possibly Even on Dangerous Oil Trains

By Cole Stangler - DeSmog Blog, July 19, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For decades, the U.S. railroad industry has successfully shed labor costs by shifting to smaller and smaller operating crews. Now, it’s on the verge of what was once an unthinkable victory: single-member crews, even on dangerous oil trains.

A tentative agreement reached by BNSF Railway and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union would allow a single engineer to operate most of the company’s routes. It would mark a dramatic change to a labor contract that covers about 3,000 workers, or 60 percent of the BNSF system.  

It’s not just bad news for workers. The contract has major safety implications—especially amid North America’s dangerous, and sometimes deadly, crude-by-rail boom. Last year’s Bakken shale oil train derailment and explosion in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, brought increased scrutiny to oil trains. 

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