Canadian train disaster sharpens debate on oil transportation
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post, July 8, 2013
The railroad put the small lakeside town of Lac-Mégantic on the map. And over the weekend, the railroad wiped part of the town off the map.
Founded in 1884 when the Canadian Pacific Railway began construction on the final leg of track linking Montreal and the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick, Lac-Mégantic was shaken Saturday when an oil-laden train bound for a Saint John refinery derailed and exploded, leaving at least 13 dead and dozens unaccounted for.
The Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway train, with 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken basin, was left unattended by its conductor and rolled downhill, blowing a hole in downtown Lac-Mégantic, likened to “a war zone” by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The dead found Monday were burned beyond recognition, officials said.
The explosion near the border of Maine also reverberated in the rest of Canada and the United States, where people are hotly debating what mode of transportation is safest and most economical for carrying the steadily growing output of crude oil from North Dakota and northern Alberta’s oil sands. And it reignited calls for tougher standards for ethanol and crude oil tank cars.
U.S. railroads are already carrying more than 1 million barrels of crude oil a day, bolstered by new shale-oil boom regions such as North Dakota and Texas. Proponents of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline may now be bolstered by arguing that pipelines are safer and more fuel-efficient than trains.