The derailment of a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, tragically reminds us of the inherent dangers of transporting flammable and volatile materials, whether it be by rail, truck, sea or air.
The train, carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken formation to a Canadian refinery, derailed and at least five of the 73 cars exploded. As of Wednesday, at least 15 people were confirmed dead, with dozens more still missing. The crash and ensuing explosion and fire cut a huge swath of destruction through the town of 6,000 people, destroying buildings, cars and anything else in the immediate area. About 2,000 people from the town were evacuated.
Officials Wednesday ruled out terrorism, but did say they are still considering that criminal negligence could have caused the accident, and the location is being treated as a crime scene.
Predictably, there were immediate calls for the Obama administration to quickly approve the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would move oil from Canada's tar sands regions to refineries in the United States.?The project would also create an opportunity for more oil from North Dakota to be transported by the pipeline, rather than on trains and trucks. But the pipeline by itself certainly would not eliminate shipping North Dakota or Canadian oil by rail or truck, since some refineries, including the one that was to receive the shipment of oil that derailed, are not accessible by pipeline. It would perhaps reduce the amount of oil being shipped by other methods, but it would have had no bearing on this week's accident.
Transporting oil by any method involves a certain amount of risk. Despite state-of-the-art safety measures, there can be pipeline leaks. As we well know in North?Dakota, trucks are involved in accidents. And as proven by the Canadian accident, trains sometimes derail.
We hope the deadly derailment in?Canada brings about closer scrutiny of all systems involving shipping oil by rail. But even then, there cannot be any guarantee that such accidents will not occur in the future, whether it be in Canada or western North Dakota.