The Toronto Star on Saturday published an incredibly thorough and ultimately heartbreaking look at ongoing recovery efforts in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which in July experienced the fourth deadliest rail accident in Canadian history. Forty-seven people were killed after a 72-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil derailed, resulting in fires, fumes, explosions, and an approximate 1.5 million gallon oil spill.
At the time, emergency responders described a “war zone.” Now, according to the Star, the resulting contamination has cost the city — and its surrounding waters — a cool $200 million so far. But money, as the article notes, has been far from the only cost of the spill.
“The deluge glugged out of punctured tanker cars and ran down city streets ablaze, a river of burning oil. It seeped into the ground, gushed down manholes into the sewers and stormwater pipes, causing powerful explosions underground. It spilled into crystal waters of the lake, clung to boats in the marina, and rushed down the winding Chaudière, a 185-kilometre river that empties into the St. Lawrence … The spill in an urban setting has destroyed buildings untouched by flame, prompted a mass exodus of contaminated soil, and forced crews to rebuild even as they decontaminate, with the aim of jumpstarting the faltering economy.
Those leading the clean-up sum it up simply: There has never been anything like it.”
An interactive map tracking the oil’s path can be found here.
The effects of the Lac-Mégantic train derailment are becoming more and more relevant for the American oil industry, which is currently upping its dependence on freight rail for oil transport. One of the country’s biggest oil producers, North Dakota, just announced last week that it expected as much as 90 percent of the state’s crude to move by freight rail in 2014, up from about 60 percent in 2013. North Dakota currently has record oil production of almost 1 million barrels per day: Approximately 5 percent of total U.S. oil consumption, and more than the projected daily capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels per day.
The increase and apparent cost-effectiveness of rail traffic for the American oil industry has been a mixed bag for proponents of Keystone XL. On the one hand, increased dependence on rail has led some in the oil industry to assert that it is fruitless to oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds, because heavy crude oil derived from Canada’s tar sands can easily travel to refineries regardless of whether it is approved. As noted by the Centre for Research on Globalization, “tar sands advocates are happy to promote the idea that continued development of the tar sands is inevitable because it implies that opposition to Keystone XL is futile and that Americans should therefore cash in on its jobs and construction expenditures before somebody else does.”
On the other hand, at least one of the biggest oil companies in America has said that Keystone XL is no longer needed whatsoever because of the domestic rail boom. Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources — a company that has committed to ship oil on Keystone XL — said on Friday that the “effective” and flexible option of shipping oil by rail has him doubting Keystone XL’s importance for the U.S. oil industry.