Letter – Another Rail Car Disaster: More Crude Trains Mean More Disaster

Today, another train derailment carrying crude oil occurred this time in Heimdal, North Dakota. Ten oil tanker rail cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed ignited flames. The surrounding farmsteads and communities have been evacuated, though no injuries were reported. The recent derailments in Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia and Quebec are an alarm bell going off that these trains are unsafe at any speed and too dangerous to be on our rails. Whether by rail, barge, or pipeline, the Sierra Club believes Bakken crude transport is unsafe.


“This is a disaster, a disaster that could have been avoided. So far in New Jersey we have been very lucky. There are at least 50 oil trains a week passing through our state and many more coming each day. These trains are a disaster waiting to happen. There have been many derailments and there seems to be one every couple months. So far the derailments have happened in mostly rural areas. If one of those derailments happened here in New Jersey, which is the most densely populated state in the nation, there could be a catastrophic loss of life. Even though there are proposals to make these trains safe, they are unsafe at any speed. That’s why Sierra Club is in federal Court to try to block these trains from being on our rail lines,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.


Casualties as a result of train derailments and explosions have been noticed across North America. In 2013, 80 tanker cars carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec killed 47 people. Three other accidents happened in 2013 occurred when a tank car were derailed or hit by another train. In March, another train derailment carrying crude oil occurred in Galena, Illinois. The eight-rail crash ignited flames have been reported to be seen for miles. The Sierra Club is currently suing the Department of Transportation (DOT) for failure to remove DOT-11s rail cars, which are known to be unsafe.


“This oil is not only the most flammable, it’s the most explosive, and no matter how you ship it there will be serious disasters. Many of these trains run through major water supply areas and a spill could wipe out the New Jersey water supply for months to come. One quart of oil contaminates one million gallons of water and one rail car carries 34,500 gallons of oil. Therefore one rail car can pollute 138 billion gallons of water. The Oradell Reservoir alone contains 5.7 billion gallons water. If a spill were to occur, it would completely containment the reservoir. This would wipe out the water supply for weeks, or months until it’s cleaned up. That means one train car could wipe out all of Bergen County’s water supply. We are playing Russian roulette with these train cars and that’s why they need to be banned. They should be banned now,” said Tittel.


Bakken crude is dangerous because volatile compounds are left in, instead of taken out because it would cost more to remove. They could build facilities to remove this compound but it’s cheaper to transport them through our communities. Gasoline cannot be moved by rail, the same way Bakken is yet Bakken is more volatile and flammable.


“These devastating incidents raise many concerns regarding the transportation of the dangerous Bakken crude whether by rail, barge, or pipeline through New Jersey. What happened in North Dakota could happen here with far worse consequences. North Dakota Bakken Shale oil is one of the most explosive types of oil in the world.  At any speed, whether it is traveling by rail, barge or pipeline, it is a disaster waiting to happen endangering our families, property and environment,” said Tittel.


The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline presents the same issues as train transport including leaks and explosions especially carrying Bakken Crude. The Pilgrim Pipeline would cross through the Ramapo and the Highlands threatening drinking water for three million people.


“Bakken crude however it is transported is a ticking time bomb. We should keep Bakken crude where it belongs, in the ground. Instead we should be investing in renewable energy that will not damage our environment, put the community at risk, and will help to combat climate change,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need to ban these pipe bombs on wheels now.”


Toni Granato

Administrative Assistant

New Jersey Sierra Club