Concern About Oil Trains Grows

The Plattsburgh Town Council wants more oversight of oil trains. Photo by Dan Heath/Plattsburgh Press Republican.

The Transportation Department recently released new emergency rules in response to a series of fiery rail crashes of trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken Fields of North Dakota. The new rules would require trains to slow to 40-miles per hour in designated urban areas (there are none in the Lake Champlain Basin), and require greater details about what trains are carrying within 90-minutes of any derailments.  "These measures would do little to reduce the risk of oil transport by rail in our region," notes LCC Executive Director Lori Fisher.  "Each week between 15 and 30 million gallons of Bakken crude oil travel along Lake Champlain putting our communities, wildlife and waterways at risk."

There have been some excellent short documentaries about oil trains. The video Boom: America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem, was produced by The Weather Channel and Inside Climate News, and earned a Vimeo Staff Pick. The documentary accompanied an investigation by reporters Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones, who explained why federal regulations to protect the public have been stalled by the railroads and oil industry. A New York Times Op-Doc, called A Danger on the Rails was produced by Jon Bowermaster. Op-Docs are short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and artists. Bowermaster’s most recent documentaries include “Antarctica 3D, On the Edge” and “Dear Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers Against Fracking in One Voice.’’ He is a 30-year resident of the Hudson Valley.

Closer to home, Clinton County, NY’s Oil Train Task Force has been calling for increased oil train safety requirements. The Task Force has been pushing local communities to adopt three resolutions to that end. The resolutions say that the oil trains pose an unacceptable risk to the community and call for safer cars, more detailed spill-response plans, and increased funding for emergency response.  So far, the resolutions have passed in the City of Plattsburgh, the towns of AuSable, Beekmantown, Champlain, Plattsburgh and Saranac, and the villages of Champlain and Rouses Point.