Oil trains carry 33.7 million barrels of oil across the United States every month. This is fifty times more oil than was carried in trains in 2010. The fracking and tar sands boom plus a reduction in pipeline construction has led to this huge increase of rail transportation for oil. Unfortunately, while we might cheer our success in delaying portions of Keystone XL, transporting oil by rail is inherently more dangerous than transporting oil by pipeline, and we’ve seen an increase in injuries and fatalities associated with oil train accidents: 14 fatalities per year on average for pipeline incidents; 730 fatalities for railroad accidents (via MINNPOST).
One of the worst oil train disasters to happen recently was in the town of Lac-Megantic, in Quebec, Canada. On July 6, 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed, burst into flames and destroyed streets and houses, leaking over 100,000 liters of oil into the river, and killing 47 of the town’s 6000 residents.
Photographer Michael Huneault has been photographing the town and its residents since just a few days after the crash, returning many times to see how the town recovers from this accident and how things have changed (or not) since the disaster.
How do oil train accidents relate to climate change? It is, of course, our demand for oil that creates the need to transport the oil, and it is, of course, the burning of this oil which dumps CO2 into the atmosphere. If we didn’t burn the oil, we wouldn’t have the train accidents and we wouldn’t haven’t a climate crisis.