Disaster on the tracks

An increase of oil shipments by railway imperils our water system

The author is a volunteer news and public affairs producer for community radio since 1992.

The transport of crude oil by rail in North America has increased significantly in the last five years. Flammable toxic oil shipments from the fracking fields in North Dakota and possibly Canadian tar sands are coming through Chico and Oroville on their way to the Richmond and Bakersfield refineries. What will this do to our water supply if one spills in the Sacramento River or Feather River Canyon above Lake Oroville (the beginning of the California State Water Project)?

In 1991, 19,000 gallons of soil fumigant spilled into the Sacramento River near Dunsmuir and flowed into Lake Shasta, killing 1 million fish and 100,000 trees. Oil trains carry up to 3 million gallons at a time and rail lines are being taxed to their limit. There were more oil spills in North America from trains in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined. A local derailment and spill is probably not an if, but rather a when.

Gov. Jerry Brown knows this and has increased the budget of the Office of Spill Prevention and Response by more than $6.7 million, but it cannot order BNSF Railway Co. to stop shipments or improve its rail lines. Banning the Keystone XL pipeline will not slow the tar-sands oil extraction (wish it would), but rather forces more oil shipments to railways.

This threat to our surface water is compounded by an added threat to our groundwater. Fracking waste and other extremely toxic chemicals are being pumped underground into deep wastewater injection wells. These are often referred to as storage or disposal wells. A high percentage of these wells have been shown to leak.

In a June Scientific American article by Abrahm Lustgarten titled “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground Beneath Our Feet?,” Mario Salazar, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on these wells, made this prediction: “In 10 to 100 years, we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted.” There are more than 680,000 such disposal wells in this country, and who knows how many locally.

Please understand this danger to our lives. Please push our representatives to make a serious, 10-year, moon-shot push to end our dependence on fossil fuels. This is an achievable, job-creating goal.