Federal Government Warns Against Oil Trains, Gives Them Tax Breaks


by Sasha / Earth First! Newswire

In a moment that might set the pace for 2014 to be the weirdest year of all time, the US government issued a warning on Thursday that oil trains from the Bakken region of North Dakota may, in fact, be extremely flammable!

Well, ok, it wasn’t a warning so much as it was a “safety alert.” Like on cigarettes, where the Surgeon General tells you that cancer is coming your way. Maybe we can put similar labels on oil trains? You will see it as it passes through: “CAUTION: this train might explode and vaporize your whole town!”

So much has happened already, as the stunning, tragic case of Lac-Megantic has shown. In the summer of 2013, an oil train derailed in the middle of the small Canadian town, decimating the town center, and killing 47 people. The company responsible has, of course, tried to give the government and the people the shaft with regards to paying for the clean up and the irreparable damages to the local townsfolk.

Another oil train derailed in Alabama in November, lighting up the sky with 90-foot plumes of fire, and of course there is the recent explosion that evacuated the town of Casselton, North Dakota (just a lucky 25 miles from Fargo) with toxic fumes.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Bakken oil is a high-quality crude with a lower flash point,” stated Ron Ness of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Maybe someone needs to explain to Ron that the safety warning is just a public relations strategy.

Although they’ve known Bakken oil is more flammable all along, industry and political representatives acted surprised at the explosion in Casselton.

In one hilarious moment, the Wall Street Journal used the past perfect tense to sheepishly retract its own feigned astonishment, stating that it “had reported that investigators and industry officials were alarmed and puzzled by the strength of the explosions that resulted from the train crashes.”

Now that even the mayor of Casselton, Ed McConnell, has declared that there’s nothing shocking in the US government’s safety alert or the massive explosion, the blood on the hands of big oil is apparent. The public relations gambit has buckled under the understanding that, really, we’ve known for a long time that oil trains are extremely dangerous.

Fred Millar, rail safety consultant in Virginia, is keeping the faith, however, insisting that communities should be alerted that exploding death trains frequently run through town, and railroads should route oil trains around population centers just to be safe.

Activists have pointed out that the oil terminals planned for the Pacific Northwest can’t exactly be routed around population centers—the biggest one is set for Vancouver, Washington, which is literally across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.

The government’s safety warning rings even more hollow when we address the fact that the Obama Administration has credited its own “all of the above” energy policy for the oil boom in the Bakken Region. In Obama’s proud words, “We produce more oil than we have in 15 years.”

Despite the fact that between 70 and 90 percent of oil from the Bakken region is transported by train, in July (on the heels of the Lac-Megantic disaster) the Obama Administration delayed train safety rules. Rather than spending tax money on safety, the Obama Administration gave a $331 million tax break to railroads to galvanize the infrastructural movement that has seen oil shipments by rail increase more than 4,000 percent since 2008.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota has hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock in Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), which runs most of the oil trains from the Bakken region. But that’s probably totally unrelated to the explosion of oil trains. BNSF employees also gave Heitkamp some of her top-ten political contributions, which is also probably a red herring. No corruption happening at all.

While receiving huge tax breaks to expand his corporate empire, Warren Buffet has insisted that the rich should pay more taxes. President Obama even quoted Buffet in a fundraising letter (irony!) saying something to the effect of “I don’t think that Warren Buffet’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Buffet, and neither does he.”

Incidentally, the rich paying higher taxes to the government will not change the allocation of state moneys (genocide, mass incarceration, destroying the earth, etc.), and it would likely only perpetuate tax breaks for corporations.

The underlying significance of the safety warning against oil trains lies in the fact that the government is doing nothing to stop the trains or even regulate them—in fact, it has encouraged their expansion. We might as well be getting safety warnings about climate change as the US and Canadian governments increase production of fossil fuels exponentially. “Just so you know, we’re slowly murdering the planet!”

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