At a time when Republicans and their money-machine the Koch brothers are waging a ferocious battle to put a stop to clean and renewable energy, and oppose any and all regulations on fossil fuels, another man-made disaster in West Virginia reveals why dirty fossil fuels are a clear and present danger to Americans’ health. It was just over a year ago that a Koch-related coal processing plant poisoned a water source supplying 300,000 West Virginians with drinking water, and it was a reason for Republicans to oppose any new regulations to protect residents’ health. On Monday, a train carrying over 100 tanker-cars of highly-flammable crude oil from North Dakota derailed, exploded, and poured toxic crude oil into residents’ water supply.
The derailment, explosion, and subsequent fire prompted West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency after at least a 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Fire officials reported that at least 14 of the tank-cars were part of the derailment and subsequent explosion. Fortunately, as of Monday evening only one home was destroyed and at least one person was hospitalized for smoke inhalation; but that is not the only concern. For one thing, due to heavy snow, rescue workers and disaster response teams were unable to get the fire under control or take stock of just how much crude oil is being poured into the Kanawha River. As of Tuesday morning, officials were aware that at least one of the rail tanker cars fell into the river in an area just 30 miles from where the Koch-affiliated coal processing plant dumped over 10,000 gallons of a highly-toxic coal industry chemical into the local water supply that affected 300,000 West Virginia residents.
The CSX-owned train was carrying over 100 tankers of crude oil from the Bakken shale deposit in North Dakota, and the company released a statement Monday evening saying it would provide hotel rooms for residents evacuated from their homes. The West Virginia derailment was the second major oil spill over the weekend after another train transporting the fracking-extracted, highly-flammable Bakken crude oil derailed in Ontario when 29 out of 100 tanker-cars went off the tracks dumping oil and subsequently starting a fire. Research has shown that “Bakken shale crude” is more prone to exploding and catching fire than other types due its lower-temperature flash and burning point according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
The Wall Street Journal reports that Bakken shale crude is the most explosive type of oil compared to 86 other locations around the world, but officials speculate that the shale crude’s extreme volatility is likely due to the chemicals added to the oil during the “fracking” extraction process. The “fracked” oil that is poisoning yet another West Virginia water supply is the same product that exploded and burned killing 47 Canadians last year in the deadly Lac-Mégantic derailment disaster. The chemicals used in fracking are considered ‘trade secrets,’ but according to health officials they are highly toxic and used in extracting most of the shale oil from North Dakota. The oil industry says that 90 percent of North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil is shipped by rail instead of the equally dangerous pipeline method.
Over the past month, there have been four separate pipeline ruptures that led to explosions and disastrous leaks; the largest poured tens-of-thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. In fact, poor beleaguered West Virginia residents were subjected to a gas pipeline rupture and explosion less than a month ago, and coupled with a major chemical-coal ash dump last year, and now a “state of emergency” due to an oil train derailment explosion and contaminated water, one might think residents would be up in arms against the fossil fuel industry.
There is no safe way to transport or store fossil fuels whether it is chemical-laden coal ash, highly corrosive tar sand, or highly-volatile and toxic Bakken shale oil. Still, TransCanada perpetually touts the safety and reliability of its “safe and environmentally friendly” pipelines even as the southern leg has already suffered over 125 dents, leaks, and sags the company has had to re-excavate and attempt to correct. Throughout all the leaks, derailments, explosions, and water contaminations, Republicans and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are waging a ferocious war on clean and renewable energy sources; including enacting ALEC-written legislation rolling back clean energy standards in Republican-controlled states.
The Department of Transportation is studying whether to implement more stringent safety standards for transporting oil by rail, but Koch-Republicans opposed to any kind of regulations will not allow it to happen. The prescient question is; why in dog’s name is the government just ‘studying’ whether to impose stricter safety measures on transporting oil; whether by rail or pipeline? Of course, all of the government agencies tasked with protecting Americans’ health or their water supplies have had their budgets slashed drastically by Republicans to prevent them from even studying whether to enact stronger safety measures. What is particularly curious is why a state like West Virginia just elected a Republican legislature knowing full well they will fight tooth and nail to eliminate regulations affecting the fossil fuel industry after suffering the devastating coal ash spill that endangered 300,000 residents’ health by poisoning their water supply.
Americans depend on fossil fuels for most of their energy needs now and the foreseeable future; that is not in question or up for debate. However, there is no reason the richest nation on Earth cannot make a concerted effort to transition a greater share of its energy needs to renewables and clean energy sources. It is true that there are regions of the nation that are making headway towards more sustainable and clean energy reliance, but compared to other industrial nations America is woefully lagging. Of course, other industrial nations are not under control of the fossil fuel industry and it is doubtless that any have governments owned by two wealthy oil magnates.
One wonders what it will take to shake Americans out of their malaise on the tragic consequences of their dependence on fossil fuels. Obviously the Koch Republicans are not going to allow the nation to transition to clean energy without a fierce battle any more than they will allow more robust safety standards to be enacted. But when there are several oil pipeline leaks, ruptures, and explosions each month, chemical dumps directly into Americans’ water supplies, or train derailments that prompt a “state of emergency,” one might expect a concerted citizen effort to demand change. Of course, that would entail a citizenry that was intelligent enough to have high regard for their and their loved-one’s own safety and existence. Sadly, no-one in their right mind will be accusing the majority of Americans of being very intelligent any time soon.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.