On Saturday, an oil car train derailed two miles outside of Gogama, Ontario, igniting at least seven cars and sending five cars into the Makami River.
Quite horrific to see first hand. pic.twitter.com/h1Cr3naRIG
— Glenn Thibeault (@GlennThibeault) March 8, 2015
At least 35 cars carrying thick Canadian crude leapt off the tracks, making the Gogama derailment the largest such disaster in a three-week period – and the fourth such disaster to occur in that time.
The spate of recent “bomb train” explosions began on February 14 when an oil train derailed outside Timmins, Ontario and caught fire (Timmins is just about 60 miles south of Gogama). This accident was followed by two derailments in the U.S., the first on February 16 when a CSX train hauling Bakken crude derailed in Fayette County, West Virginia, and the second on March 5 when a BNSF Railway train derailed and two of its cars burst into flames in Galena, Illinois. These accidents were followed by the aforementioned derailment in Gogama on March 7.
— KCRG (@KCRG) March 5, 2015
Major oil development and production in the North Dakota Bakken shale and the Alberta tar sands has led to a glut of oil in the North American market, forcing oil that would otherwise be shipped by pipelines (which, let’s not kid ourselves, are no benchmark for safety either) to be packed into oil cars and shipped by rail. Oil car traffic has increased by 4,000 percent in the last five years, and many railways are unequipped to deal with the massive load.
“It’s basically guaranteed to happen again,” Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Canadian nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defense, told The Star, “this is not an isolated incident. So until something dramatic is done, we’re going to see this continuing over and over again.”
In the wake of these fiery disasters (both the Galena and the Illinois fires are still burning) the Center for Biological Diversity has called for a moratorium on oil car trains.
“Before one more derailment, fire, oil spill and one more life lost, we need a moratorium on oil trains and we need it now,” said CBD senior scientist Mollie Matteson in a news release. “The oil and railroad industries are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives and our environment, and the Obama administration needs to put a stop to it. Today we have another oil train wreck in Canada, while the derailed oil train in Illinois is still smoldering. Where’s it going to happen next? Chicago? Seattle? The Obama administration has the power to put an end to this madness and it needs to act now because quite literally, people’s lives are on the line.”
Walter Naveau, a chief of the Mattagami community that lives near where the Timmins derailment occurred in February, told northern Ontario news outlet Village Media that the explosion had tainted the air to the point that the First Nation people could taste it in their mouths and feel it in their chests.
Speaking on the Gogama derailment and the oil that is currently leaking into the Makami River, Environmental Defense’s Adam Scott said the ecosystem would likely experience “permanent contamination” from such a major spill of oil and chemicals. “They almost never are able to clean up all of the oil released in a spill like this,” he said, “and it’s much worse even when there’s a direct spill into a river because the oil gets moved down the river and the chemicals can spread.”