Deadly Railcar Explosions in Quebec and Alabama Tied to Volatile Bakken Oil pt1
Exclusive aerial video by the Public Herald documents the spreading of oil in Alabama’s wetlands, adding to the more than 17,000 reported U.S. oil spills that happened between 2010-2012
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
There have been over 17,000 oil spills reported between 2010 to 2012 in the U.S. alone, according to an analysis by EnergyWire. And recently two transport trains have exploded carrying crude oil. One of those major disasters was in Alabama, when a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded just outside the town of Aliceville, spilling into the wetlands. With the increase in domestic production and the stigma of pipelines, railway companies are shipping 25 more crude oil than they were five years ago.
The nonprofit site Public Harold has really been at the forefront of this issue, detailing this in a published exposé. The report says, quote, these tragedies were caused by negligence on the part of the oil and train companies. The investigative report was documented by photojournalist John Wathen and oil spill expert Scott Smith.
With us to discuss the Alabama spill and what’s behind these disasters is Scott Smith. He is the founder-inventor of Opflex technology, a reusable sponge that absorbs oil-related toxins and repels water. Scott travels the world educating communities about water contamination issues and improving his oil spill response technology with scientists and disaster response teams.
Thanks for joining us, Scott.
SCOTT SMITH, FOUNDER AND INVENTOR OF OPFLEX® TECHNOLOGY: Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So, Scott, you actually visited the Alabama train spill site, and you also visited the train spill in Quebec when that train exploded, I should say, killing people. Why do you think these accidents happen? What is at the root here?
SMITH: It has to do with the volatility and explosive nature of what’s going in the real cars. And there aren’t any standards or documentation before it gets loaded into the rail cars. And that is causing major problems that are leading to these explosions and disasters.
DESVARIEUX: What kind of physical evidence do you have that would back up that claim?
SMITH: Well, I went out to the Bakken oil fields myself and pumped out of the well. And this is how the Bakken oil comes out. Now, in this canister, if we were to raise the heat where I am to 80 degrees, this would start to bend, and as you shake it, the volatiles are in there. And if there’s so much as a spark, it will just literally explode. So that’s what’s going on.
And to really make it in simple terms, the caprock or the shale out of North Dakota is mother nature’s way of keeping these highly volatile chemicals that come out of the ground with oil in their place. So when we open up that and drill deep, there are all these variables. And what’s happening is 30 to 40 percent of what’s going in these railcars are highly volatile explosive chemicals that are unprecedented. They just–it needs to be dealt with, it needs to be documented in a scientific, transparent way, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
DESVARIEUX: [What should] they be doing to transport this Bakken oil safely?
SMITH: Testing it. For example, chemical companies like Dow Chemical, they make a variety of chemicals that have been around for, you know, over 100 years. Nothing leaves a facility from Dow Chemical unless it’s documented in what’s called a material safety data sheet and what is known is in there and they know they’re going to transport it safely.
That is not being done with the Bakken oil. They are pumping fast and furiously and filling the railcars without any scientific documentation, because depending on where they’re drilling, they’re so deep that they chemicals are varying.
And I’m not here to necessarily plug Enbridge, but I have to give Enbridge pipeline company credit on this one. Enbridge has gone on record raising their hands with the rail companies with wait a minute, slow down, we’re worried about these volatile explosives and no control. So Enbridge pipeline company is actually trying to do the right thing by saying, hey, let’s figure out what’s in this oil before we just load the rail cars and send them on their way.
DESVARIEUX: [inaud.] make the argument that they have a vested interest to really investigate how volatile these oils are, because the other alternative would be to use pipelines. Do you actually see pipelines as being the answer here in being a safe way to transport this oil?
SMITH: No, I don’t, because the pipeline–and this is–you know, I’ll try to answer this as succinctly as possible. But to give you a credible scientific answer, we have 200–irrespective of Keystone and people’s opinions on Keystone, which I’ll stay away from, there are 200,000 miles of oil pipeline already in the United States, and one already spilled and caused a disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas, earlier this year. And those 200,000 miles of pipeline were built when we were just pulling purely concentrated crude without all these volatiles . So these existing old pipelines, when you have extreme weather conditions from hot to cold–and I’ve learned this recently from scientists I work with–some of these pipelines are fracturing because of dramatic temperature increases in all the weather conditions. And, for example, when these original pipelines were not designed to–whether it’s–if it’s the diluted bitumen, otherwise known as tar sands here or oil sands, you have to increase the heat and pressure. These pipelines aren’t designed to withstand that, and they are pumping that through. And whether it’s Bakken crude oil with the aging pipelines or the railroads, I can’t tell you that one is safer than the other.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Scott Smith, in part two of this interview we’ll get into more of the issue of how do we clean this up, what is the EPA doing to regulate this oil spill.
Thank you so much for joining us, Scott.
SMITH: You’re welcome.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News. Network.
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