As federal officials began investigating the safety of moving crude oil by rail in the wake of a massive explosion in North Dakota that engulfed a dozen train cars, the Quinault Indian Nation reiterated its warning against the use of rails to transport oil.
“It could have been us,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, stating the matter simply in a media release on December 30, the day the explosion outside the small town of Casselton prompted evacuations for miles.
“This is one of the very real dangers the Quinault Nation and others have been consistently warning people about,” Sharp said in a statement from the Quinault Indian Nation. “The smoke from such fiery accidents is poisonous and deadly, particularly to those with asthma and other respiratory ailments. But the danger of such spills does not stop with the smoke. Oil from such accidents can cause major destruction to land and water, leaching into ground waters, as well as rivers, streams, lakes and marine waters wreaking havoc on fish and wildlife habitat.”
The federal government seemed to concur on the danger aspect, directing transporters to take extra care.
“[R]ecent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil,” the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration cautioned on January 2.
The train was carrying 3.5 million gallons of Bakken crude. Though no one was killed or injured in the North Dakota explosion, 1,000 residents of 2,500-population Casselton had to be evacuated. Previous such accidents have resulted in tragedy. In July 47 people were killed in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada when a runaway train slammed into the center of the 6,000-person town and gutted it.
Back then, too, the Quinault spoke out against transporting oil by rail.
The number of crude oil shipments by rail has increased 25-fold over the past several years, according to the Los Angeles Times. In fact plans are afoot to transport the same oil by rail through some of the most densely populated parts of Los Angeles, the Times said.
The Quinault are fighting similar transport plans across their own territory, the Nation said in its statement.
“Industry officials, port officials and others who have been pushing for the increased oil traffic into Grays Harbor County have advocated increased traffic on the basis of benefits to employment and the economy,” Sharp said. “The folly of that argument becomes crystal clear in the wake of these accidents.”