For Immediate Release, April 30, 2014

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Oil Train Derailment in Virginia Exposes Need to
Confront Dangerous Rail Shipments of Bakken Crude

Moratorium Needed to Ensure Safety for People, Wildlife

LYNCHBURG, Va.— The fiery train derailment in Lynchburg, Va., today is the latest evidence of the dangers of increasing shipments of particularly explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and western Canada. Shipments of the oil have ramped up dramatically in recent years, and a series of derailments, including one in Quebec that killed 47, have raised serious safety concerns.

“Sadly the crash and fire in Lynchburg isn’t a surprise,” said Mollie Matteson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Northeast office in Richmond, Vt. “Citizens have been sounding the alarm about the increasing number of trains carrying explosive Bakken oil. This has got to be a wake-up call for federal authorities to protect people and the environment from these dangerous shipments.”

The Center recently called for a moratorium on rail transport of the hazardous oil in the Northeast. The group sent a letter to members of the New York and Vermont congressional delegations, and to the leadership of rail safety subcommittees in Congress, urging federal intervention.

“Every day trains with tens of thousands of barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude are rumbling through cities and small towns across the country, endangering people, rivers, wetlands and wildlife,” said Matteson. “We can’t afford to wait for another train wreck before strong measures are enacted to protect communities, drinking water supplies and natural areas.”

The danger of derailments first garnered widespread public attention in summer 2013, when a runaway train transporting 72 tankers of Bakken crude careened into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and incinerating the downtown. On Dec. 30 a train transporting Bakken crude derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., prompting an evacuation of residents within five miles of the accident. And in January a 122-car train carrying Bakken crude derailed and caught fire near Plaster Rock in New Brunswick, prompting evacuation of the town. Since the beginning of 2014, there have been numerous derailments of oil trains in the Northeast, though none this year, until today, had caught fire.

Trains are now converging on Albany and the Hudson River Valley from the north as well as west-east rail lines, bearing the same incendiary crude that has been involved in at least six major rail accidents since summer 2013. Plans are in the works to further escalate the amount of Bakken crude moving through upstate New York, as Albany and the Hudson River corridor become a major transportation funnel for oil shipped from the western United States and Canada to East Coast refineries. 

“A massive increase in rail shipment of oil across the Northeast and much of the country has occurred with no public scrutiny to ensure our safety or protect the environment,” said Matteson. “A moratorium is needed until a careful review can ensure safety measures are in place to avoid another tragic accident.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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