Two recent oil train explosions and a report predicting more in the future have raised the unpleasant profile of crude oil unit trains crisscrossing the country.

Here are three recent events to give us pause:

  • A unit train carrying North Dakota Bakken crude oil derailed, exploded, destroyed a home and polluted a river last week in West Virginia. It took a few days for the train to stop burning.
  • A government report, publicized last week, predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, costing nearly $4.5 billion in damages and possibly killing hundreds of people.
  • Turns out that the bitumen-or tar sands oil-isn’t that much safer than the notoriously volatile Bakken oil. An oil train that exploded in remote Northern Ontario on Feb. 15 was carrying bitumen.
  • More bad news: both trains that derailed last week were using newer tanker cars brought into service in 2011-bringing calls for even greater safety standards for tanker cars.

Now, we are seeing as many as 20 full Bakken crude oil unit trains passing through North Idaho on their way to refineries and terminals on the West Coast. That’s up from 12 full oil trains per week last summer. That number could more than triple if proposed transport terminals and refinery expansions proceed on the West Coast.

The increase in oil trains, and the potential risk they pose for North Idaho communities and waterways should they derail, has prompted cities and counties to send letters to our Congressional delegation asking for measures to make the transport of oil-and coal-safer.

It’s also prompted Idaho’s three northern Panhandle counties to work together to develop a geographic response plan for emergency services to be better prepared in the event of an accident.

We are continuing to monitor the very fluid issue of oil and coal transport and to give Idaho a voice in rail proposals that threaten our health, safety and environment. If you don’t already get our action alerts, sign up for our email updates today!