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One year anniversary of Lac-Megantic


Photo: Lac-Megantic on June 16, 2014. Photo by Leo Broderick.

The Canadian Press reports, “More than 1,000 people marched in solemn silence early Sunday morning, passing the spot where tragedy struck Lac-Megantic with such awful violence a year ago. They began their walk in the darkness after observing a moment of silence at 1:15 a.m. — the exact moment on July 6, 2013 when a runaway train derailed in the centre of the Quebec town and exploded in a series of cataclysmic fireballs killing 47 people. Though a year has passed, the emotional scars in the community remain as deep as the physical damage that is still so apparent on the local landscape.”

The 72-tanker train with DOT-111A cars that exploded in Lac-Megantic started its journey in New Town, North Dakota after being loaded with Bakken shale oil. It then travelled through the American Midwest, headed north to Windsor and on to Burlington, Mississauga, Toronto, Montreal and numerous other towns on it way to the destination it never reached, the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

Three railway employees have been charged with criminal negligence. There are allegations that the engineer of the train only applied seven manual handbrakes before the train rolled down the hill from Nantes into Lac-Megantic, rather than nine handbrakes required by the railway’s rules. He is awaiting trial on these charges.

In late July 2013, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “How easy it would be to lay the blame for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic on the engineer who ran the train. But the real responsibility lies with the governments on both sides of the border who have deregulated their transport sectors, gutted freshwater protections and promoted the spectacular growth and transport of new and unsustainable fossil fuels.” She highlighted, “All across the country, we are in mourning for the victims of this accident. The very least we can do for the families and friends of lost loved ones in Lac-Mégantic is right the wrongs that led to that terrible night.”

In terms of ‘righting those wrongs’, Barlow cautions, “Some are using this tragic rail accident as an argument in favour of the controversial oil pipelines. But pipelines also pose a serious threat to human health and the environment when they carry hazardous materials. The International Energy Agency says that pipelines spill far more oil than rail.”

And we need to be mindful that fracked oil from North Dakota is still being moved by trains. A December 2013 Globe and Mail feature article reported, “Railways haul more than two-thirds of the nearly 700,000 barrels of crude shipped daily from the Bakken formation of shale oil. Crude initially stranded by a pipeline shortage is now carried on trains loaded with as many as 120 cars of oil – so-called unit trains of crude that didn’t exist five years ago.”

And we are generally seeing more oil moved by rail. In October 2012, the Canadian Press reported, “Canadian Pacific moved some 8.3 million barrels of crude oil in 2011, and expects to hit 44.8 million barrels next year… CN moved some 3.2 million barrels of crude in 2011, and is expected to hit 19.2 million barrels by the end of this year.”

In May of this year, the Globe and Mail reported, “New National Energy Board figures show that oil-by-rail exports have risen more than 900 per cent in less than two years. …More than 146,000 barrels a day were exported on trains to the United States in the last three months of 2013, compared to just under 16,000 in the first three months of 2012.”

The majority of this oil is being moved by dangerously substandard DOT-111 tanker cars, which make up about 80 per cent of the Canadian railway fleet. These are the type of cars that exploded in Lac-Megantic. The Council of Canadians has supported Unifor’s call for an immediate moratorium on the use of these cars. In addition, Council of Canadians organizer Michael Butler has produced a guide on how to spot DOT-111 tanker cars in your community. To see his guide, please click here.

The Council of Canadians mourns the loss of lives that happened a year ago today and further commits to preventing additional disasters that are driven by the reckless extraction and transportation of fossil fuels.