I read something this morning that I found absolutely absurd. Republicans blaming Democrats for the recent freight train derailments spilling oil and burning it along the tracks. They’re angry because the Democrats denied them their precious KXL Pipeline so it’s their fault these horrific fires are burning until they burn out because it’s dangerous to put them out any other way than just allowing them to burn and just manage the fires to keep them from spreading.

These statements are ignoring some highly relevant facts.

First, consider what they’re transporting. Crude oil is flammable. It’s poisonous to the environment and to humans. And the type of crude oil currently burning in Illinois is particularly volatile; which means that this kind of risk is going to be there regardless of how it’s transported. Yet, we now have the technology to get away from our oil dependence. We have the capability to not even risk transporting oil at all. We could put all our focus on further development of renewable resources and minimizing our dependence on oil altogether. Yet we still put our environment and human well-being at risk to support this industry.

All this being considered, let’s compare the pipeline spills to rail transport spills. When a train derails, there are impacts of metal on metal generating sparks that ignite horrible black smoke blazes which pollute the air and the spills that pollute the ground surrounding the area. Fumes spread throughout the area and the fires have to be managed because to spray water on them would increase risk to contaminating nearby bodies of water. However, these fires are quick to spot and get on top of controlling. A pipeline spill on the other hand can quietly leak for months before the evidence is found leading to the spill….then they have to track where the spill is coming from which could take days, perhaps even weeks if the spill is slow and the mess has spread far enough. Most pipelines go OVER bodies of water so the spillage has by the point of discovery already poisoned the waterways. Animals and vegetation are already dying by the time repairs are made. The damage has been done and clean up could take weeks…months…years in some cases. Not to mention that these companies find ways to skirt around the cost of cleaning it up which means some of this contamination is permanent. Then consider that this particular pipeline is slated to cross over one of the largest clean water aqueducts in the country; an aqueduct that supplies clean drinking water to millions.

So if crude oil is burning in a one mile crash site and the fire is being controlled so as to not let it spread, it will eventually burn out. Once that is done, any reputable railroad will clean up the spill with a collaborative effort between the railroad and outside contractors well trained in the cleanup of such spills. If the cause of the spill is found to be caused by the railroad like a hotbox or a damaged rail, the railroad will absorb the cost. However, if its cause turns out to be due to the negligence of the company the shipping is being done for, the railroad will handle the spill exactly the same way, and then pursue the company at fault to recoup their costs. In the case of the pipeline, the company at fault is the one responsible for maintaining the pipeline, in EVERY case. And history of these spills and the damage they cause has often been found to be permanent because the company responsible skirts that responsibility and never fully cleans up the mess. So at this point, it becomes a choice. How would you rather the spills be handled? By responsible railroads that make it company policy to take their impact to the environment and communities into consideration and clean up after themselves or by oil companies that have by historical account made it a habit to cover up or just ignore their impact on the environment in favor of their bottom line? Making them transport by rail forces them to be responsible because railroads are responsible. Pipelines allow them to shirk their responsibilities to the citizens of the country and to the environment. If they own all the land around the pipeline, no one is going to report it until it seeps over the property line. If it doesn’t, it may take people getting sick from contaminated water ingestion which could take years and cost millions in healthcare costs to any unlimited number of victims.

My mother use to tell me to consider what people tell you, and then consider what they have to gain by telling you what they do. This article is a perfect example. The following link is a better representation of the facts minus the devious spin, though it’s not really perfect either.

This incident, the previous one last month and their timing tend to stick with me. It makes me question what’s going on. These two incidents got much more press than did the two major pipeline spills this year. Perhaps because they want to present rail spills to be more costly than pipeline spills…..and they are…for the oil companies. But the cost of their impact on our environment and human lives is more than we can afford.


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