Crude Oil-Carrying Train Derails And Explodes, Destroying The Center Of A Quebec Town

Downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. (Credit: Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press, AP)

“When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you’ll understand that we’re asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event.” — Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche

Early Saturday morning a train carrying crude oil that was supposed to be stopped for the night rolled downhill toward the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec — less than 10 miles from the U.S. border near Eustis, Maine. It then derailed and caused several powerful explosions and set fires that were still burning on Sunday.

The explosions destroyed the town’s center and killed at least one person, though police are having a difficult time reconciling missing persons reports and expect the death toll to increase. Lac-Megantic’s town center has bars and restaurants that become popular in the summertime, but these places of nighttime revelry turned into disaster zones as explosions caused intense heat, flames, and large plumes of black smoke. The town’s fire chief described the scene as a war zone.

The train’s operator said the cause was still unclear, because the engineer parked the train uphill from the town after the day’s run and a parked train should not become a runaway train. The 73 cars were supposed to be stopped for the night, and each of the 30,000 gallon tankers held crude oil. At least four were damaged by the accident. A large amount of fuel has also spilled into the Chaudiere River, which feeds into the St. Lawrence, and a mobile laboratory was brought to Lac-Megantic to monitor air quality.

Tar sands crude oil is currently transported from Alberta on trains as TransCanada and the government of Canada push the U.S. to approve the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. The favorable State Department environmental report on the pipeline is centered on the assumption that the tar sands oil will be extracted and transported whether the pipeline is approved or not.

Yet Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver said in April that transporting tar sands by train is a “poor alternative” to transporting it by pipeline. Actually both are extremely poor alternatives compared to simply not opening a spigot to world’s largest and dirtiest pools of carbon in the first place.

28 Responses to Crude Oil-Carrying Train Derails And Explodes, Destroying The Center Of A Quebec Town

  1. Camburn says:

    This train had Bakken Crude.

    The accident is a poster child of why pipelines are needed. They have faults, but are still the safest way to transport high density fuels.

  2. catman306 says:

    If that’s the case, then perhaps someone who would like to see that pipeline built, released the air brakes on this train after the engineer and crew had left.

    (When brakes fail on a train, they lock to the ‘stop’ position. The air keeps them unlocked so the train can move.)

  3. Brooks Bridges says:

    “The accident is a poster child of why pipelines are needed.” “are needed”? Substitute “through criminal stupidly and ignorance, wanted”.

    Camburn, what part of “We’ll eventually destroy most or all life on the planet if we don’t immediately greatly reduce burning fossil fuels” don’t you understand?

  4. fj says:

    This accident and a huge amount more are poster children for the fossil fuel industry destroying our lives, our future, and our planetary home.

  5. BBHY says:

    The worst part of this is when you realize that had the train not derailed, and the oil made it safely to a refinery, been turned into fuel, then burned and the resultant CO2 dumped into the atmosphere, it would still be an environmental disaster.

  6. rollin says:

    This is a very strange “accident”, parked railcars have sets of manual brakes that cannot disengage on their own once set. I wonder what the investigation will reveal.

  7. Nobody really believes rail can fully replace KXL like the state dept claims. Here is yet another quote showing that:

    “A decision blocking Keystone would reduce spending on oil-sands projects by about US$9.4 billion between 2014 and 2017, Dan MacDonald, an RBC Capital Markets analyst, wrote in a note to clients May 27.”

  8. Cym Gomery says:

    I find it ironic that some commenters can use the fact that a horrible oil-fueled disaster occurred as a reason for promoting the Keystone XL pipeline. Oil by train or Oil by pipeline: are these our only options? Surely we can put our much-celebrated prefrontal cortexes to the task of developing alternate, non-fossil-fuel forms of energy, and to reducing our energy consumption.

  9. Mark E says:

    Given the tactics and money used to combat proposals for capping or taxing CO2, I confess I had the same thought.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, quite, ME

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Has been a bad weekend for trains. ABC is reporting a passenger train derailed in Siberia after the driver braked when he noticed the rails had buckled in the heat, ME

  12. bradknopf says:

    The mainstream media has been minimizing this story since it broke. The Washington Post had it on page 12 this morning. Washington’s ABC affiliate did not mention the oil cargo in a brief report, stating only that it caused a fire and four or more people were killed. We are cooked, folks.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Kraken Wakes! The other alternative is to leave it in the ground. Nah- no money in that, innit?

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Green terrorism’, perhaps?

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Look at it with a cynic’s eye. Terrible tragedy proves the need for pipeline. Valiant President for Big Business, Obama, regretfully (this will be Oscar-winning stuff) announces Keystone must go ahead, to spare the little children from the danger. Then, ‘evidence’ emerges that this was ‘Green terrorism’ by ‘insurgents’ opposed to ‘Our Way of Life’. If not now, inevitably, and soon.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The rich and powerful are lazy. Inventing, or investing in, new ideas is harder than simply keeping the profits flowing in from ‘Business as Usual’.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The ‘Free Press’ in all its Glory!

  18. “Tar sands crude oil is currently transported from Alberta on trains”
    Please note that this train was probably transporting oil from North Dakota…

  19. MJH says:

    This is obviously a great tragedy, but it seems a bit silly to me that people are railing against fossil fuels on machines that are made using a great deal of fossil fuels. A bit like handing out “save the forest” handbills on paper.

  20. BobbyL says:

    With all that fire from burning oil a lot of CO2 must have been released.

  21. Pearl says:

    Leave the tar sands alone. Greed does not become you, Canada. It doesn’t become us, either. Interesting that the first “suspect” in a sabotage scenario is those who want to protect the environment: is burning that much crude oil all at once any kind of eco-friendly protest? I think not. Is putting lots of people in harm’s way the act of people concerned about the welfare of people? I think not. What if the investigation finds that those wanting the pipeline were the ones to have the train parked “above the town” in the first place, who hired someone to set the train in motion, in order to make a case for their black-&-white, either-or pipeline-or-train transport theory? I think this is more likely, but will never be revealed, even if all the evidence is there to prove it. LEAVE THE TAR SANDS IN THE GROUND: WE DO NOT NEED MORE OIL. WE NEED MORE INVESTMENT IN THE MANY MUCH MORE SUSTAINABLE AND MUCH LESS TOXIC WAYS TO PRODUCE ENERGY THAT HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED AND QUASHED RATHER THAN DEVELOPED. AND WOULD BE MUCH MORE LUCRATIVE IN THE LONG RUN, TOO.

  22. Raul M. says:

    The photo shows a great deal of pollution when the crude burns and another photo could show the great deal of pollution of the crude spill. Even children may see why crude is bad. It is much easier to see why when it is a big mess all in one place. The event reassures me that the crude scene is crude.

  23. Gary Dawbin says:

    “… probably transporting oil from North Dakota”? If so, why was it routing through Canada, and apparently headed toward a refinery in St. John, NB? It seems to the that the source of the crude in the tank cars should be readily available and identifiable.

  24. Janet Matthews says:

    Thank you M Lapointe. Also it was light crude, not dilbit. Not that this changes the argument, but inaccuracies only help the other side.

  25. Chris Winter says:

    To me this objection seems like something that mostly serves the other side. I think of it like “Oh, they’re protesting fossil fuels by using computers which are made with fossil fuels. How hypocritical!”

    The relatively small amounts of CO2 involved in the production and use of blogs (or handbills) will not tip the balance one way or the other, and their use might get the world on the path to phasing out fossil fuels.

  26. There will probably be 40 deaths in this tragedy. The entire center of this small town (2000 people) has been eradicated. It took more than 36 hours just to extinguish the fire, and now they are begining to search for the bodies, or what’s left of them.

    Funny to see how little US medias are talking about this accident: yes, because it is in Canada, it seems far away, and still, this town, Lac-Megantic, is only 6 miles from the Maine border.

    Also, to add to comment no. 8, this is a fact, it was oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota. Between 2008 and 2012, oil transportation by rail have been multiplied by 25 in North America.

    Details here, in French:

  27. Irvin Dawid says:

    Agree entirely. I’d call this, to use the modern vernacular, a “game-changer”. Ask the good folks of Mayflower, Ark. who saw a major pipeline spill on March 30, about pipeline safety, and they will tell you a thing or two – but comparing Mayflower to Lac-Megantic, well, it’s just no comparison. I just think that rails will no longer be the easy fallback for oil refineries anymore, and the public may realize that rail is not the safest way to ship crude as a permanent means of transport.

  28. Jean-Pierre says:

    Wrong, but so long as it goes thru your backyard and not mine, and those of my neighbours who would not want it..,Just sayin’. Neither is safe ESPECIALLY WHEN SAFETY AND ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS ARE BEING ERODED by the little despot. Now you go tell your story to those people who have the spills and the contamination: Kalamazoo, Mayflower, Fort Chippewa, et al. Pipelines in watersheds are just as disastrous.