© Roy Luck
PORTLAND, Ore.— The derailment today of multiple oil tanker cars and resulting fire in the Columbia River Gorge reaffirms the danger that transporting oil by rail still poses to people and the environment — despite new safety rules meant to prevent such accidents.
“Unfortunately we’ll continue to see these fiery derailments even with the new regulations in place,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned for stronger protections against oil trains. “Just as safety experts predicted, the new rules are insufficient, and people, wildlife, rivers and lakes will continue to pay a huge price for the government’s failure to take steps to adequately protect us from oil trains.”
The new federal regulations fail to protect the public by allowing dangerous, puncture-prone tank cars to remain in service for up to 10 years and allowing oil trains to move at speeds well in excess of the puncture resistance of even the newer tank cars. The new rules also fail to limit the weight and length of “high-hazard flammable trains” to prevent derailments.
The latest derailment and fire occurred Friday shortly after noon in the Columbia River Gorge near the town of Mosier, Ore., and state forest lands. According to witnesses, multiple cars derailed and smoke and flames could be seen in downtown Mosier near the Rock Creek overpass. The accident led to the closure of Interstate 84, and students at Mosier Elementary School were evacuated.
There has been a dramatic rise in oil-by-rail derailments in recent years. The amount of crude oil spilled from trains in 2013 was equal to all the crude oil spilled from rail transport in the previous 40 years. One fiery train wreck at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, killed 47 people and burned up a large proportion of the small town’s business district. In 2015 alone, at least five oil trains derailed and exploded — in Fayette County, W.V.; in northwest Illinois near the Mississippi River; two near Gogama, Ontario; and in the small North Dakota town of Heimdal. Several of these resulted in fires that burned out of control for days.