We all know that drilling for oil is risky business. But the potential for catastrophe does not stop once crude oil is brought to the surface. Yesterday, a freight train owned by CSX derailed in downtown Lynchburg, VA and spilled crude oil into the James River, causing major environmental damage. 50,000 gallons of crude are missing from the tankers, which either burned in the blaze or spilled into the river, which eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
Some in the academic community predict that some of the crude will sink to the bottom of the river, harming organism in the sediments for miles. Portions of the oil could also vaporize into the air, representing a significant public health hazard for first responders and those who reside nearby. Additionally, local businesses and government buildings were closed.
This isn’t the first time that trains transporting oil have caused environmental degradation, harmed nearby populations, and disrupted the local economy. Last summer, a train in Quebec carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. Along with leveling buildings and destroying the downtown area, the explosion released over 1.5 million gallons of oil into the nearby area. Further, in December of last year, a North Dakota train carrying crude oil derailed, causing hundreds of people to be evacuated.
Along with the potential for disaster when transporting by rail, moving this highly toxic substance by other means is similarly dangerous. In March of this year, a bulk carrier and a barge collided, releasing nearly 170,000 gallons of highly toxic fuel oil into Galveston Bay. And we should not forget the devastation of the 1989 ExxonValdez oil spill, which spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude and continues to devastate Prince Williams Sound.
Drilling both onshore and offshore represents exceedingly risky practices, and often, they are responsible environmental and public health dangers. Even if oil is extracted from the ground with no problems, disasters can and do still occur fairly regularly from their transport. However, even if the transport is completed safely, the end result for that oil is carbon pollution that causes global climate change and ocean acidification. All of which put local and global communities at risk.
The solution is out there. We need to stop the expansion of drilling in places like the Atlantic and transition to clean renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.