Oil Train Derailment in WV

By WILSON DIZARD

(Article Cross Posted from Al Jazeera America)

Residents of a West Virginia county started picking up the pieces Tuesday after an oil tanker train derailment and fire forced more than a hundred people from their homes and threatened water supplies for thousands, raising new alarm among environmental activists over the rail transport of crude oil through their state.

By Tuesday evening, power crews were restoring electricity, water treatment plants were going back online, and most of the local residents were back home. Many people had taken shelter in local schools or hotels near the town of Boomer. Others continued to rely on free bottled water from the water utility. CSX, the rail company involved, issued a statement saying it is working with the Red Cross to provide shelter for some 125 people amid frigid temperatures and a fresh foot of snow.

With fears of oil seeping into the adjacent Kanawha River, water authorities shut off an intake plant near the derailment, disrupting the lives of everyone on the water system near the smoky crash site. After testing on Tuesday found no detectable trace of oil in the river, public health officials and the utility, West Virginia American Water (WVAW), started turning the intake plant back on — but it will be several days before water service returns to normal. 

The crash sent one person to a hospital with breathing trouble, but the blaze resulted in no deaths despite sending a massive fireball over the Kanawha River at about 1:30 p.m. EST, around 30 miles southeast of the state capital, Charleston. 

At least 20 tankers were “involved” in fires, CSX said Tuesday, and state environmental officials and the rail company decided to let the fires burn themselves out. “At this point there are still small fires burning, so responders can’t go down to there,” said Kelley Gillenwater, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “We can’t get to the actual derailment to assess the immediate impact.”

Gillenwater said the DEP remains dedicated to preventing the pollution of water supplies, pointing to its proposal for strong chemical storage safety laws. Her department, however, has nothing to do with overseeing what travels through the state via rail, she said.

According to CSX, the 109-car train was carrying Bakken shale crude oil from North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia. 

“We don’t have the jurisdiction to regulate that transportation,” Gillenwater said, adding that the DEP will be conducting further tests of the river’s water and watching out for a telltale “sheen” of oil. 

Gillenwater wasn’t certain of who is responsible for environmental safety on the state’s railroads, but pointed to the Department of Transportation as the likely authority. The West Virginia DOT web site says it controls the State Rail Authority, which oversees freight rail. The DOT was not available for comment Tuesday night. 

After the fire burns out, DEP officials will examine how much oil has spilled onto the soil and remove contaminated dirt that could pollute groundwater, Gillenwater said. 

West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery, the site of the water plant shutoff yesterday, canceled classes until Monday, Feb. 23. Students living on campus will be able to stay at the nearby Beckley branch of WVU, the school said Tuesday, adding that it doesn’t expect to regain water service at its Montgomery campus for another 72 hours. 

WVAW and the DEP said tests Tuesday showed no detectable levels of oil in the water near intake valves downstream from the spill. But the company had already shut off the system Monday as a precaution. The WVAW has advised residents to boil their water before drinking it after the taps are turned back on. The water restrictions affect about 2,000 people in six different towns, local news channel WVNS reports.

The accident conjures memories of another spill in West Virginia just over a year ago, when 10,000 gallons of a coal processing chemical spilled from a tank along the Elk River, making its way to the waterway — the supply for 300,000 people in and around Charleston. For weeks, emergency management authorities in the state distributed free water to thousands across the region.

Even now, many people in that area report being afraid to drink the water.

“It’s just one thing after another,” said Maria Gunnoe, an environmental activist with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who cited the Jan. 2014 chemical spill as an example.

Accidents with coal or gas are so common, Gunnoe said, that people don’t notice them much anymore. She blamed what she sees as a complacent and complicit state legislature.

“Everyone will forget this in three months, and our state leaders will continue to facilitate the oil and gas industry and not protect the people,” Gunnoe said.

“I don’t have all the answers. It’s a massive problem,” she added, saying the freight shipments of oil aren’t handled safely. “They go extremely fast and they’re extremely reckless, and all of our state leaders turn a blind eye until something like this happens.”

T. Paige, 66, a musician, photographer and part-time environmental activist who lives near Monday’s derailment, said Tuesday morning that he could still see smoke coming from the accident site. He said the crash made him feel “very, very, very angry.”

“These trains are not regulated enough,” he said. “They should not have been going through here in the snow storm. It’s dangerous. They’re not taking adequate precautions.”

He blamed what he called a close relationship between industry and elected leaders for what he sees as a dangerous attitude toward regulation.

“Democracy is being derailed and this is one of the symptoms.”

Stand with Poisoned Inmates

Graphic by Adam Peck via Think Progress.

This is climate injustice.

In January, thousands of gallons of the toxic coal cleaning chemicals contaminated the drinking supply for 300,000 people and hundreds of inmates at the South Central Regional Jail (SCRJ) in Charleston, WV, were deprived of access to enough safe water.

Many inmates suffered from illness and injury from dehydration or chemical exposure. Some even faced violence and legal repercussions for seeking medical help and for asking for clean water to drink. You can hold SCRJ accountable and ensure the basic human rights for inmates if you speak out right now!

Click here to demand basic human rights and safe water access for inmates at West Virginia’s South Central Regional Jail.

Our allies with West Virginia Water Hub and Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (RAMPS) met and corresponded with more than 50 inmates, and based on their stories, it’s clear that this failed crisis response is just the latest example in a larger pattern of abuse, violence, and negligence by the jail’s staff and administration.

WV Water Hub and RAMPS are amplifying the voices of inmates and exposing this horrendous abuse in order to force a response from prison authorities.

Add your voice: sign RAMPS’ petition to demand basic human rights for inmates in coal country.

RAMPS has stated that they are acting “in solidarity with broader movements of resistance to the growing prison state and poisonous extractive industries.” Combined, the systems of state repression and fossil fuel industry profit are creating a perpetual crisis. Like RAMPS, our movements must respond in kind and directly confront fossil fuel expansion, challenge the political power of that system, and act in solidarity with those facing the brunt of the crisis.

That is climate justice.

RAMPS Media: Pro-Mountain Activists Board Coal Barge & Blockade Kayford Strip Mine Haul Road

Pro-mountain activists board coal barge and blockade Kayford strip mine
haul road

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Contact: Robert Livingston 304.731.1740
http://action.mountainjustice.org

KAYFORD, W.Va. –Mountain Justice and RAMPS activists blocked coal 
transport in two locations Thursday morning. Five boarded a barge 
on the Kanawha River near Chelyan, with a large banner that
read “Coal leaves, cancer stays,” and locked their bodies to the barge. At
the same time, dozens of concerned citizens obstructed access to the haul
road on Kayford Mountain, stopping coal trucks from entering or
leaving the Republic Energy mine.

“These actions against coal transport were taken because the viability and
health of mountain communities are being destroyed by mountaintop
removal—the coal and the profits are shipped away, leaving disease and
destruction in their wake,” Rebecca Loeb, one of the people on the barge
said.

According to Nathan Joseph, another activist on the barge, the struggle
against mountaintop removal in Appalachia is linked to the struggles of
other fossil fuel extraction communities across North America and the world.

“The coal industry's continued disregard for the well-being of Appalachian
communities is connected to the struggles of other North American
extraction communities. Strip mining tar sands for
low-quality oil, fracking for dirty gas and deep sea oil drilling are signs we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. The extraction,
transport, processing and combustion of these fuels all disproportionately impact low-income communities, indigenous communities,and communities of color,” Joseph said.

According to a
study co-authored by Dr. Michael Hendrix in 2011, a researcher at West Virginia
University, “Self-reported cancer rates were significantly higher in the
mining versus the non-mining area after control for respondent age, sex,
smoking, occupational history, and family cancer history (odds ratio =
2.03, 95% confidence interval = 1.32–3.13). Mountaintop mining is linked to
increased community cancer risk.” The study's researchers collected data from 773 adults in door-to-door
interviews.

As people in West Virginia see the lack of opportunities, they often leave
the area to pursue a future elsewhere. Larry Gibson, of Kayford said, “Our
biggest export in this state besides coal is our young people.”

Marilyn Mullens of Coolridge, W.Va., said “Clean water and air is a human
right. My electricity is not worth my human rights being violated–I’ll live
with the lights off. I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy the
beauty of West Virginia. We’re tired of the corporations lording over us,
and no one is hearing our voices, so it’s time to take it further than
talking.” Mullens is an organizer of Women United to End Mountaintop
Removal, a May 28 event, in which women will shave their heads in front of
the W.Va. Capitol in protest of mountaintop removal.

“For the past 150 years the coal industry has been pillaging this place and
taking everything, leaving nothing but death and destruction in their wake.
I am personally very thankful to these young folks who ain't from around
here necessarily who decided to put their freedom and bodies on the line to
stop this vicious cycle, even if it is just for one day,” Junior Walk of XX
said, “I would love to see some of my native West Virginia brothers and
sisters stand up and tell this industry they can't do this anymore.”