Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Whistling Past The Graveyard

NYS Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (right foreground) listens intently during a presentation at the Oil Train Community Forum.

(C) 2014 Luke T. Bush


When I hear an approaching train blow its horn there's a thought in the back of my mind: Will I have to run?

Statistically speaking I shouldn't have to worry.  But statistics mean nothing if you are in the vicinity of a major derailment and tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil, anhydrous ammonia, propane, whatever, spills, leaks, or explodes.

What I heard from a panel of experts at the Oil Train Community Forum doesn't reassure me.  The forum, held 8/28/2014 in the City Hall Auditorium, discussed train shipment hazmat issues with the emphasis on Bakken crude oil.  Public agency representatives talked about the training given to emergency responders to deal with derailments.

At the start of the forum New York State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey briefly spoke to the SRO audience.  She repeated a disturbing fact I had heard before: when it comes to safety the feds usually trump local concerns.

She said: ""I agree wholeheartedly that we need to increase safety standards for oil tanker transport.  Unfortunately the federal government controls a lot of these regulations."

"The governor," Janet continued, "did issue earlier in the year an executive order directing the assessment of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to crude oil shipments. But that doesn't stop the problem."

My take: what corporations want, corporations get — even if means citizens are being endangered for the sake of maximum profits.

If the feds want to allow shipments via rail of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars with substandard safety standards, so be it.

Last year a derailment of Bakken crude oil devastated the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.  Tanker cars exploded, fiery blasts.  45 confirmed dead with five reported missing, presumed dead.  (Those reported missing were most likely reduced to carbon smudge.)

The risk is still there, up to 120 cars of Bakken crude per train passing through the North Country.  So how does a CEO or government official responsible for such shipments sleep at night?

Probably soundly.  Why worry when you don't live near the tracks?

Anyway, Lac-Megantic, the CEO or guv official probably justifies to himself, was bad luck, a fluke.  It won't happen again.  The unconcerned CEO or official just whistles while he works.

After all, good emergency plans are in place.


One of the speakers at the forum, Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network, talked about a derailment drill that was held at the Saratoga Springs Middle School, using the standard evacuation plan.

Claire Barnett, Healthy Schools Network, speaks at the Oil Train Community Forum.

She explained: "The children were marched under the [railroad overpass] to the fire department.  If there had been a derailment you wouldn't want to go under the rail pass and you wouldn't want to go to the fire department because that's where all the equipment is in motion [to deal with the derailment]."

Time to dust off those old plans and take another look.

During the comment part of the forum people in the audience vented some of their frustration and anger.  They wanted prevention of, not preparation for, a disaster.  Ban the shipments until safety standards are improved, they declared.

At the forum's end Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, said nothing will be done by NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) unless Governor Andrew Cuomo was behind it.

He said: "We have a de facto moratorium on potential fracking in New York that the governor has supported, all the while this threat is rumbling through our towns, over our watershed, aquifers.  Today he kicked the can to the federal government in the press, saying basically his hands were tied.  We need to tell the governor that he has to take action."

Sure.  Like fighting Albany corruption with the Moreland Commission.

In the meantime I keep my ears open, not just for a train horn, but for any crash and boom that might follow.


Rolene said...

Luke, couldn't help thinking of the Feds also declaring corporations are people, when reading your statement that corporations get what they want. Who are those "people?" - Rolene

Tal Hartsfeld said...

Well, there goes the neighborhood.