A looming disaster
Crude oil running on Butte County’s railways poses a threat to local, state watersheds
Scientists have found unprecedented levels of fish deformities in Canada’s Chaudière River following the Lac-Mégantic Bakken crude oil spill in 2013. This catastrophic train derailment, which killed 47 people and ravaged parts of the small town in Quebec, underscores the danger of spilled toxic crude oil getting into our waterways and affecting living organisms.
I find the Canadian government’s report very distressing—even for Butte County. That’s because, just last week, I observed a train of 97 railcars loaded with crude oil traveling through the Feather River Canyon and downtown Oroville.
The California Public Utilities Commission has designated this rail route as high risk because of its sharp curves and steep grade; it travels next to the Feather River, which feeds into Lake Oroville, an integral part of California’s domestic water supply.
If you think that railway shipping is safe, think back to 2014. That’s the year 14 railcars derailed, falling down into the canyon and spilling their loads of grain into the Feather River. The last thing we need, especially in a time of drought, is crude oil poisoning the water of our second-largest reservoir.
In 2010, it took over $1 billion to clean up the Kalamazoo River crude oil spill. But you can never really clean up a crude oil spill in pristine freshwater, as the deformed fish from the Chaudière River reveal.
Keeping crude-oil-carrying railcars on the state’s tracks is simply not worth it. Less than 1 percent of California’s imported oil is transported by railway. Californians receive little benefit, but bear the risks to their communities and watersheds from this practice.
Since Lac-Mégantic, there have been nine more crude oil derailments, explosions and spills into waterways. We need to learn a lesson from those catastrophes. We must convey to our politicians—local, state and federal—our priority of protecting our communities, fisheries and waterways. Let’s not let what happened in Quebec happen in Butte County.