High stakes on the railways

Crude oil transport in Butte County jeopardizes water for millions of Americans

The author runs a community garden and is co-founder of Chico350.

Water is the most precious resource we have here in Northern California, and recently the voters of Butte County voted overwhelmingly to protect it by banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Seventy-two percent of us—Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old—understood the dangers fracking presents to our water and decided not to allow it here.

But an even bigger threat to our water supply is still rolling through our county every day on old, crumbling rail lines. In the last five years there have been 35 oil train accidents across North America. As the recent 16-car derailment in Mosier, Ore., illustrates, hauling crude oil on aging railways is dangerous. In that accident, four cars ruptured and leaked 42,000 gallons of Bakken crude into nearby waterways.

Here in Butte County, hundreds of rail cars filled with oil travel the steep, rocky corridor along Highway 70 every week; right above the Feather River. If such a spill were to happen here, that oil would run into Lake Oroville, polluting water that 23 million Californians depend on.

And then there’s another issue. The motivation for our fracking ban and the concerns over these oil trains are both mostly due to how they will affect us locally (i.e., our water). But these things also represent a much bigger, much more dangerous threat to most life on the planet: climate change.

The U.S. Navy has determined the Arctic will be mostly ice-free by 2019. Superstorms, flooding, heat waves and drought are all becoming more frequent and much more intense. Virtually every new study finds that climate change is happening faster than we even thought possible. We simply have to stop burning fossil fuels. And one way we can help do that locally is to stop them from coming through our county.

Time is short, the stakes incredibly high. Please help us stop these trains. To join local efforts visit Chico350.org or search for Chico350 on Facebook. The public is invited to learn more during screenings of two films on the subject, followed by a panel discussion, at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 10, at the Pageant Theatre.