Oil Train Disasters do NOT Justify the XL Pipeline (Lac Megantic)

Town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, oil train disaster, 7-2013.

Town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, oil train disaster, 7-2013.

Dear Readers,

(Note:  I’ve posted supporting information links below my sign-off, along with 5 “+1” earth relevant photos.)

Following is a slightly modified/edited comment I posted to a Reuters article, dated July 7, reviewing the horror of the oil train tanker disaster in the heart of a small Quebec town. The article was good, as Reuters articles often are. Details, facts, and accounts are offered with little hype. The article ends with consideration of how the train disaster might boost likelihood that the XL Pipeline will be approved.

I’m afraid the Reuters ‘hunch’ is all too sound, as hunches go. And I object to the reasoning that would make it so. My objection not with Reuters, who only report and suggest. My objection is with the ‘thinkers’ Reuters have in mind when they predict the train disaster can help assure go-ahead on the XL.

Here are my thoughts as posted on Reuters, (with modest further development, etc):

Two days ago I read an exceptionally well written feature article update on the recent West, Texas fertilizer explosion that wreaked such havoc on a small thriving community. Human experience of such an event was fresh on my mind when I learned of this disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec. It’s hard to imagine how the experience would be described in human terms, other than by using words like ‘stunning and unspeakably traumatic’. My deep sorrow, and best wishes, to the townspeople in all respects.

That said – Reuters is probably right – this event will be used to argue in favor of the XL pipeline.

And it should not be.

For one thing, I don’t know what quality of oil was in the tankers but the toxic bitumen based slurry destined to be pumped through the XL is a far cry from what we recognize as ‘oil’. Further – Americans (and many more Canadians) need to get it through their heads that the XL project is already massive, and is already brutally toxic and destructive to forest, wildlife, and watershed. It’s unspeakably irresponsible and even deeper brutality that cancer spikes in First Nations people of the region somehow don’t make the news.

The means of reaching the bitumen is full scale open pit mining; with all vegetation ripped away and topsoil scraped off. A foot or so deep of ‘all that was’ is removed to access the shale. (Topsoil alone is scarce and precious that far north.) Then the stuff is mined, hauled, and processed in preparation for pumping through pipelines. Toxic waste created is held in ponds the size of small lakes along a major river –  the Athabaska. As most of us can imagine – there are big, BIG bucks riding on this venture.  Major and minor gas/oil corporations and industrial players – along with countless tradespeople, mine workers, and community planners – are depending on this bonanza to meet short term hopes and lifestyle expectations.

IF the pipeline is approved, the gung-ho “lets tear everything up to get at the bitumen” attitude could see a region of vibrant Canadian forest the size of Florida brought to ruin. These forests are rich in biodiversity, and serve as major ‘natural water management’ force (as do all forests on the globe – trees and vegetation do far more on our behalf than pump out oxygen). Wildlife displaced dies or crowds out their counterparts in adjacent lands; birds with no more nesting habitat include a rich diversity of year-a’rounders, plus uncountable migrating specimens – even the remarkable diminutive hummingbird.

Approval of the XL by argument relying on this tanker disaster would be nothing but irrational ‘confirmation bias’ of those who already want to make mega-$$$ selling Canadian bitumen-fuel on the international market via Gulf shipping – or, if not confirmation bias, then corporatist bias – which may be the same thing.

We’ve this one earth. Without it there’s no life at all, including of course, human. Contribution of this pipeline to climate warming, which in any case is quite possibly already beyond reversal, is inarguable.

We have simply got to get our collected intelligence focused on what is essential instead of what we wish were true.

I want to be clear, I do *not* suggest we should haul these fuels by train, or by truck for that matter – except as is absolutely essential as we quickly and with great intent release our dependence on these fossil fuels in every way imaginable.

We must take an alert look at how we operate, be scrupulously honest about ‘externalized’ and ‘collateral’ costs that are not figured into what we claim as ‘profit’ and ‘productivity’.

We now convince ourselves, quite insanely, that we must, regardless of cost, do whatever is ‘necessary’ to reach the final drops, clumps, and gases of fossil fuels. We’ve brought ourselves to this situation more or less by innocence and lack of foresight (along the way many have spoken with great concern).

We must find a way for people to be engaged as contributing members to society and the economy, but must design an economy that doesn’t force people to destroy earth in order to purchase essentials such as shelter, food, education, and health care.

We are so locked into expand and exploit, are so addicted to high-consumption lifestyles, that we’ll use any argument available to convince ourselves and others that “its regrettable to destroy earth, but what choice do we have?”. This is truly a beyond bizarre line of thought.

We claim to be an intelligent, curious, optimistic, problem solving species that is willing and able to ‘slog through difficulty’ for a better tomorrow. I believe this is true about us; I believe we can, if we decide, find our way out.

However,  I don’t see us behaving with concern that matches the scope of our problem, (see this Toronto Star article).  I see us behaving as if we don’t really want to identify how threatening our ‘systems and styles’ are to this earth’s essential vibrancy, without which – life as we know it does not exist, period.

All Our Best To Each and All – we need it! — MaggieAnn

ASSOCIATED LINKS: We are unfortunately a ‘sound bite’ culture. But we can’t possibly grasp full implications of current industrial environmental risks unless we dig deeper. By checking out a few of these links, even if we only read headlines and summaries, we begin to learnMany are current, others a few years dated. I did not search sites at which I found the links for ‘most current’. Some, for instance the First Nations issues link, will have 2013 news I’m sure.

Montreal Gazette, editorial, July 7, 2013 – reviews public safety oversight policies, calls for public discussion on this as wider issue, briefly notes also “Similarly, in the private sector, pipeline companies might be tempted to use Lac-Mégantic to help shape the debate over the future of pipeline development in their favour. But the pipeline companies have had their own share of spectacular accidents.” 

Bitumen in pipeline, June, 2012:  “Cleaning it up would challenge them in ways they had never imagined. Instead of taking a couple of months, as they originally expected, nearly two years later the job still isn’t complete.”  //  “…the heavy tar-like substance must be mined or extracted by injecting steam into the ground. The extracted bitumen has the consistency of peanut butter and requires extra processing before it can be delivered to a refinery. // There are two ways to process the bitumen….” // “…diluents (trade secret) vary depending on the particular type of dilbit being produced. …often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen.” // “(re Marshall spill) …diluents evaporated into the atmosphere, leaving behind the heavy bitumen, which sank under water.” // “Some watchdog groups contend that dilbit is more corrosive than conventional oil and causes more pipeline leaks. The industry disputes … no independent studies to support either side. In late 2011, Congress passed a bill that ordered the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) … to study …Results are expected in 2013.”

Friends of Earth Basics of XL pipeline and bitumen mining/processing. Very good summary sheet with links to additional information, downloadable PDF fact sheet. Very up-to date 2013 links to pipeline approval issues news.

Alberta’s boreal forest brief fact page, blog informs on rich biodiversity of forest, gives more links.   (I’ve posted only one image of fish with lesions, in photos below.    See also “deformed fish” and “animal and human health damage” links below. Biodiversity has already been damaged in key ways.)

Irreparable damage to boreal forest fact sheet (brief, point form, references cited.) (See “water and forests”, next link, for info on role of forest lands in slowing and filtering snow melt, heavy rain, etc.  These harms are underway.)

water and forests – 6-pg pdf magnificent forest photos and attractive diagrams of natural ‘earth wellness’ dynamics involving forests and water. Multiple essential roles critical to maintain all life’s water needs. (Includes study activity for younger students, good for home or kids community activity also.)

deformed fish – Lake Athabaska fish; article gives and examines extensive and expert evidence; several unpleasant photos. (One would think the fish are a ‘canaries in coal mine’ ‘heads up’.)

animal and human health Alberta bitumen damage including lesions and cancers. Authoritative sources, well documented article, Jan 2013.

Alberta tar sands and First Nations issues, article discusses issues, includes good maps, etc.

–Found “Desmogblog” – ‘Pipelines 101‘ while searching for photos – good maps plus comprehensive discussion of fossil fuel issues, impact on environment and on North America, (especially US and Canada)

–A global “top environmental disasters” list (Water Treatment Solutions Corporation – first place I’ve found a ‘quick read’ list.) Reminders in the list text that ‘there are unfortunately many more’. List must pre-date Fukushima as it’s not cited; also I noticed ‘non-sudden’ but extremely large environmental disasters, such as in Niger delta, are not cited.

Niger delta, decades damage, not improved, (April 2013) 


Step one when going after tar sands - highly recommend check out link referenced in photo for more photos and greater awareness. A cow/calf moose pair not long ago knew this as home, browsed and wandered within rich scent, birdsong, etc...

AERIAL PHOTO: Step one when going after tar sands – highly recommend check out link referenced in photo for more photos and greater awareness. A cow/calf moose pair not long ago knew this as home, browsed and wandered within rich scent, birdsong, etc…

Holding Bitumen, Suncor image.

Holding Bitumen, Suncor image.

mackenzie-tar sands pipelines

NOTE TAR SANDS AREA SIZE. See photo above of ‘step one’ forest clearing. If YOU were a moose, bear, small or large bird – or any other creature within the biodiversity that existed pre-clearing … WHERE WOULD YOU GO? If it takes 15yrs for ‘restored’ land to ‘sort of look restored’, would you have waited on the sidelines, or hovered overhead?

Whitefish harvested Lk Athabasca by R.Ladouceur; photo Kelly Radmanovich

Whitefish with large lesion. Harvested Lk Athabasca by R.Ladouceur; Can’t tell by photo but whitefish are a good sized fish. They are an essential and traditional human food in the north.
Photo Kelly Radmanovich.
Article: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/eshope/study_provides_damning_evidenc.html


NOTE green path runs Gulf to Arctic directly across tar sands area. Migrating waterfowl don’t know about toxic sludge ponds – so they land on them. Efforts to ‘protect’ the birds by scaring them from landing may be sincere but don’t – can’t – prevent the birds from doing what is within their nature.


The “+1” relevant photo – map of “pipelines in N.America, all commodities” see also frumforum.com.

The “+1” relevant photo – map of “pipelines in N.America, all commodities” see also frumforum.com.

 (NOTE: This post is cross linked in an August 10, 2013 post that names multiple other large scale environmental disasters of an on-going nature, see “Earth’s dilemma …“)


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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6 Responses to Oil Train Disasters do NOT Justify the XL Pipeline (Lac Megantic)

  1. ronald kent says:

    Just a little write on your subject

    Idle No More

    Oil train sits in Lac Megantic
    Town folk sleep not so frantic
    Patrons socialize while they slept
    Unannounced the train it crept

    No such thing a train in idle
    This one proved homicidal
    Train engine fire silent alarm
    Town unaware no fear of harm

    First responders do arrive
    Count all engines numbered five
    Connected cars are seventy two
    Full of crude what would you do

    Disconnect these things on fire
    Bigger problem no desire
    Cut the risk to light the crude
    This decision would be shrewd

    Seventy two cars, assumed on brake
    Town folk safe that slept on lake
    Take in account train on slope
    Some brakes off you’d be a dope

    Idle train crept no more
    Picking up speed problem galore
    This idle train left to chance
    Never checked not even a glance

    Explosion awakes town folk in slumber
    Instantly town folk less fifty in number
    People running saving some lives
    Survivors to hear fifty bell chimes

    Responsibility left to whom
    This decision in the courtroom
    On a slope a running car park
    Driver responsible ticket don’t bark

    MMA you will be slandered
    Go to hell with your train standard
    You brought a man carrying sickle
    In Quebec you control your vehicle

    If you don’t the charge is life
    Stand in camera and take it in strife
    Angry people you will see
    Many more including me.

    In idle and left to runaway
    Change the law starting today
    Always manned train must be
    Someone in place we must see

    Looking back cutting the cost
    Was it worth all the lives lost?
    One more man not a big chore
    Let these trains Idle no more

    By Ronald Kent

    • maggieannthoeni says:

      Thank you, Ronald. I had mixed feelings on my posting – that my post might seem to neglect or dismiss the horror and trauma experienced by the people of Lac Megantic. Your contribution brings what I could not, if I wanted to emphasize another horror – present and unfolding – with the bitumen mining.

      I find our present times – the ‘values’ we on the one hand claim, and on the other hand ignore – troubling, at times anguishing. The ‘cost shaving’ that seems behind the horrific explosion in Lac Megantic is unforgivable. Supporting thriving life and community must become our ‘first principle’ – we seem so far astray. -MA

      • ronald kent says:

        If it is possible to say, that there is a silver lining to this disaster, they “the Canadian Gouv.” have now passed a law that all trains carrying hazardous material must be manned by two people and never left alone to idle on their own. You would think that this was common sense, but no, the rail co. leave these trains running on their own. The loss of life was 47 persons. not counting the after affects of this tragedy.

      • maggieannthoeni says:

        Yes – common sense should have made it clear that a train with running engines would not be left idling unattended. That would be IF ‘common sense’ were motivated by “promote and encourage thriving of life”. I’m afraid the type of ‘common sense’ most in use in present economic system is “common sense to maximize profit and save every cent possible from costs”. We wait until disaster happens then say: “Oh, guess we should have been more careful; but we promise from now on we’ll never make this mistake again.”

        Trouble with that is it’s ‘item by item’. IMO, it ought to be possible to generalize “care to promote and encourage thriving of life” and apply it routinely. (Well, it *is* possible – but we’ve designed ourselves an economic system that pressures against common sense on behalf of life.)

        Coincidentally – this morning I heard a podcast interview with Valerie Bergeron, Quebec law student, on Lac Megantic post-disaster developments. Program is weekly public affairs, politics, and interviews, hosted by Chuck Mertz, out of Chicago. You might be interested in the interview with Valerie B. Interview is about 20 min long, at about 2.5 hr of a 4 hr program. http://thisishell.net/shows/tomorrow-on-this-is-hell-austerity-obscenity-profanity-and-detroit/#.Uf6LvKyJLbx.

  2. Buck Clarke says:

    Dear Maggieannthoeni:
    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I recently caught a comment of yours on a Bloomberg / Disqus on IMF Global Growth projections (Big Cynic). Have looked though this blog to see if I couldn’t find an email address to contact you directly, but have come up empty handed – it’s probably staring me right in the face!
    You can reach me, should you care to do so, at buck (at) clarkerealtypartners (dot) com. Would love to hear from you!
    Keep up the compassionate thinking!

    • maggieannthoeni says:

      Thank you, Buck, for your thanks on this piece and for interest in continuing the conversation! Our destruction of earth’s vitality often seems ‘situation specific’, and we tend to think of it that way. But to me, as immensely destructive as mining/processing Alberta’s bitumen is, the worst realization is that it’s “only one of multiple” cases.

      If only we could focus in on the havoc of a single case – could recognize the immensity of harm – and then could use that awareness to generalize that all other locations “probably are similarly profoundly destructive”.

      That’s a ‘hypothesis’ – which, unfortunately, is confirmed to my mind as I attempt to track (at least be aware of) global harm. “Straws on camel’s back” – one day there is all too likely to be a “last straw”. That’s why I included a link reference to a list of global disasters, and a link to another ‘situation specific’ location – the Niger delta.

      These mega-scope, ultra-destructive projects are on every continent, are along global ocean shores, and as we know, farther out in gulf areas. If one were to drive from one mega-destructive site to another, we’d find (if we looked) many along the way that seem minor due to small size – ‘littler straws’ !

      (Assumption Parish, Louisiana – Bayou Corne – hydrocarbon industry related sinkhole a few acres August 2012, is now over 15 acres with surrounding subsidence area 40 acres or so – as expected, toxic industrial materials are in the mix. – http://assumptionla.com/bayoucorne.)

      Thanks for your email link also! Hope to follow through but I’m an unreliable correspondent and meanwhile, show up here fairly often these days!
      I so appreciate your encouragement. There are more of us ‘out here scattered about’ than we usually realize, I think (hope). Wherever we are, however we can speak up, it’s so very good to know there is interest. Times/attitudes may be improving for more open discussion, I think (hope)!!

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