Gearing Up for Another Oil Train Protest

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Protesters in Portland carry the names of those who died two years ago when an oil train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
Protesters in Portland carry the names of those who died two years ago when an oil train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec

by Lynne Nittler

There is NO safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude. Two years after Lac-Mégantic, oil trains keep exploding and carbon pollution keeps rising. Oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety, and our climate.

On July 11, Davis residents will remember the 2013 oil derailment that decimated Lac-Megantic, taking 47 lives. Davis faces the threat of a similar accident. Currently, at least one oil train per week passes through Davis headed to the Bay Area. Two more 100-car trains per day are planned for the near future for the Valero Refinery in Benicia and the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo…unless citizens stop them.

The ForestEthics www.Blast-Zone.org map shows endangered homes and businesses along 2nd Street including the police station, Carlton Plaza Senior Living and Rancho Yolo. The entire Davis downtown is vulnerable along with parts of UC Davis campus and apartments complexes along Olive Drive.

The July 11 Vigil and Rally highlights public opposition to oil trains passing through Davis. Too many residents live in the oil train blast zone, the one mile evacuation zone recommended by safety officials in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. ForestEthics calculates that nationwide, 25 million Americans live in the blast zone.

“My home is in the oil train blast zone,” says Frances Burke, downtown resident and oil train activist. “I have to breathe the extra particulates in the air from each additional daily train. Meanwhile, the new federal regulations do little to protect me. In the event of an accident, first responders can only evacuate people from fireballs that happen despite trains moving at slower speeds in the supposedly safer tank cars. Oil trains are too dangerous for communities.”

Wearing fiery red, yellow and orange shirts, Davisites are invited to meet at the train station and walk through the Davis blast zone downtown to the Rotary Stage in Central Park.

“Five times in the first five months of 2015 we’ve watched oil trains derail and explode into toxic fireballs,” said Elizabeth Lasensky of Yolo Move-on, as she made her sign for Saturday. “The Department of Transportation reported in July 2014 that we can expect 10-12 derailments a year! It’s only a matter of time before an oil train derails in a major urban area, and the railroads don’t carry sufficient liability for such a disaster!”

After rousing songs by the Raging Grannies, Mayor Dan Wolk will speak of the Davis city council’s resolution opposing oil by rail, available here followed by city Councilman Lucas Frerichs on the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s nearly unanimous decision to confront the issue. (Document)  SACOG is composed of 22 cities and 6 counties.

At the state level, Senator Lois Wolk will share the legislative response to the sudden surge of crude-by-rail transport into California aimed at protecting the public as well as sensitive habitat and waterways.

Supervisor Jim Provenza and Damien Luzzo will focus on the extraction side of the issue in Yolo County. Damien offers his story about how he came to oppose fracking at http://tinyurl.com/CAFrackWars and the Pledge of Resistance at http://tinyurl.com/FrackingPledgeOfResistance.

“With well over 100 pledges signed on and 500 visitors online, this fracking pledge of resistance is starting to take off. My article explaining the origins of the pledge has attracted over 1,000 people. The word is definitely getting out there,” Damien says of his plan to make California fracking free.

Information on oil trains and the proposed ban on fracking in Yolo County will be available at the Cool Davis booth at the Farmers’ Market.

“The truth is, we don’t need any of the extreme oil,” says Reeda Palmer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. “The explosive Bakken and the toxic tar sands crude that moves by rail is a small percent of total US oil consumption. As we move our economy to clean energy, we can’t allow oil companies to bring Bakken, tar sands and other fracked oil — the dirtiest, most dangerous sources of oil — onto the market to pollute the atmosphere when we have clean alternatives.”

Given the unresolved dangers of crude oil transport by rail and the overload of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere, a more prudent path is to leave all extreme crude in the ground, transition to clean, renewable energy, and practice energy conservation in an effort to live sustainably on a finite planet.

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26 thoughts on “Gearing Up for Another Oil Train Protest”

  1. TrueBlueDevil

    I’m therefore assuming that all of these individuals supported and support the Keystone XL pipeline, which would reduce the need for rail shipment of oil.

    1. Don Shor

      Those that I’m acquainted with in this group are very serious about energy conservation in their daily lives. Perhaps you could focus your discussion on the issues rather than the personalities.

      1. Barack Palin

        That is focussing on the discussion.  We’re making the point that oil has to get to the refineries somehow and if not by train then why not an oil pipeline?

        1. Don Shor

          I suppose I could let them speak for themselves, although that’s unlikely given the implication of hypocrisy that you and TBD immediately started with. But most who oppose this don’t think we need the oil. As it says in the article:

          “The truth is, we don’t need any of the extreme oil,” says Reeda Palmer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. “The explosive Bakken and the toxic tar sands crude that moves by rail is a small percent of total US oil consumption.”

          So you’re presenting a false dichotomy: move it by rail or move it by pipeline. They say don’t move it at all. I personally favor pipeline expansion to rail transit, but I think you (and probably TBD) are framing the issue somewhat simplistically.

        2. Michelle Millet

          It is unfortunate that instead of attempting to discuss the content of the piece the first two posters instead attacked the writer of the piece and community members who are involved in the movement.

        3. Barack Palin

          LOL, saying that these activists were probably against the Keystone pipeline is an attack?  I think you’re being a wee bit too sensitive here.  I also think you’re just venting because you don’t like it that not everyone falls in line with your way of thinking.

          They say don’t move it at all. I personally favor pipeline expansion to rail transit, but I think you (and probably TBD) are framing the issue somewhat simplistically.

          And I say it somewhat simplistic to say “just don’t move it at all”.  I can understand being against the oil moving by train through Davis but when other alternatives were presented as a way to get the oil into the US from Canada many of these same people I’ll bet fought that too.

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          What exactly is “extreme oil”?

          These discussions go nowhere as the protestors often don’t live in the real world. For example, my rough observations are often thus:

          Coal – they’re against this

          Oil – they are against it

          Natural Gas – 30% of our energy needs, 50% less pollutants than coal – they’re against that

          Nuclear power – no CO2; they’re against that

          Hydro – against it

          Wind & solar – 5% of our energy production, intermittent supply, expensive – this is what they’re for.

          Ironically, when I’ve seen these people before in person, many drive cars… which are powered by oil production.

        5. Matt Williams

          BP and TBD, I think the point of energy conservationists is that if we cut down our consumption of non-renewable energy then there won’t be a need for as much refining of oil. Parkview Place (see http://climateactioncenter.org/davis-best-talent-produce-zne-condos/ ) and the Honda House (see http://climateactioncenter.org/honda-house-produces-more-energy-than-it-uses/ ) are good examples of what can be done. Both have the capability to provide all the electric power that the electric automobiles need to provide the occupants with transportation.

      2. Sam

        Don- Since we can’t conserve enough to live without a major energy source right now, what are your thoughts on using Nuclear power as a major source of energy like France? Then we would not need the a pipeline, transportation by rail, oil tankers or fracking. I am also interested in what the group thinks about this option.

  2. Michelle Millet

    Thanks for the article Lynne, it is great. And thanks for the time and energy you have spent over the past year and half raising awareness in our community of this public safety concern. Davis is lucky to have you:-).

  3. Michelle Millet

     

    I also think you’re just venting because you don’t like it that not everyone falls in line with your way of thinking.

    Are going to start pulling a “Frankly” by telling people why they act the way they do? If you two figure out how to actually do this let me know, it would be a valuable skill to have.

    Lynne is one of the most dedicated and sincere people I know.  She is also one of the nicest. She lives her values, and advocates for what she believes in a positive and respectful way. If you are sensing sensitivity from me it’s because when people like this take the time and energy to write a piece, I’d prefer to see posters who disagree do so in a way that this is respectful to the author and her efforts.

    1. Barack Palin

      I happen to like Frankly so being compared to him is a compliment.  One thing about Frankly is you can disagree with him and he doesn’t automatically resort to accusing someone of “attacking” just because he doesn’t agree with the post.  Maybe you should be more like Frankly.

  4. DurantFan

    Are the Oil Train protestors coordinating their plans and activities with the Nishi Project  supporters?  Kicking the railroad in the shins in one instance while  asking for access ( over- or underpass) favors  in another seems like a poorly coordinated approach.

  5. DanH

    I want to see further development of safety measures before allowing rail shipment of shale and tar sand mined oil through Davis. I agree that “There is NO safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude” because there is no safe way to transport anything. That is not to say there are no ways to improve the safety of these transports.  The explosive nature of these petroleum products comes from the natural gas content of the oil. Further refining of the oil prior to shipment adds production cost but will render the oil less explosive, or “extreme” as the article describes. Improvements in rail car design and track maintenance should also be mandated by NTSB.

    Despite California oil reserves the state must import petroleum products by ship, rail, truck or pipeline at this time. As there is no trans-Sierra Nevada oil pipeline that option is not presently available. I agree that we should transition to clean renewable energy sources (including generation III+ nuclear) but at the present time oil remains essential to the nation’s economy.

    There is no safe way to transport anything. Shipping involves risk. Corn ethanol is used to produce California’s environmentally friendly reformulated gasoline. Ethanol is a volatile substance. Corn ethanol is produced in the Midwest and shipped to California primarily by rail. Safety improvements have been suggested for this mode of energy transport as well but a paucity of newsworthy accidents has yet to generate much media concern.

     

  6. Biddlin

    I am very concerned for the safety of the folks in the path of these trains. However I am very offended at the use of victims’ names to promote your case, however worthy.

    ;>)/

  7. Topcat

    …a more prudent path is to leave all extreme crude in the ground, transition to clean, renewable energy, and practice energy conservation in an effort to live sustainably on a finite planet.

    Those who wish to see less use of fossil fuels should consider the idea of lobbying for a big increase in the gas tax.  I wonder why we never see the environmental crowd talking about this approach?

    1. hpierce

      If there was a State-wide, 100% surcharge on gasoline, and all the other by-products of petroleum, we’d see consumption go WAY down.  And see more transit, bicycle, pedestrian travel.  It would tend to be “regressive”, as the lower paid folk usually have to commute farther to their employment, and the more well-compensated, might not like it, but could absorb it.  Good question.  Don’t pretend to know the answer.

  8. Alan Miller

    It is a real shame that the only people who are active in fighting the oil trains are the anti-oil people.  While a noble cause, the idea of stopping oil consumption by hurting the method of transport is rather unrealistic, and a separate issue.  The issue here is oil trains that explode far too often and are a real threat to our town and many others.  Everyone should be up in arms on this issue, but only the anti-oil people are.  The lack of safety of these trains is the issue.  Wake up everyone, before what you are waking up to is your room burning in an oil=fueled fireball.

    1. tribeUSA

      Alan–I’m with you here; realistically we’re going to need fossil fuels in abundance for the next few decades at least; hopefully by then alternative energy sources will be supplying most needed energy; but meanwhile there are things that can be done to make rail transport safer–DanH gives some good thoughtful suggestions above; there was a previous commentor earlier this spring on the Vanguard (I don’t recall his name at the moment) with much knowledge of the railways; he suggested also improving some local railway conditions in the Davis area; including a particularly dangerous rail switching near downtown Davis that could be improved, and some road crossing improvements.

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