What has Changed Since the Lac-Mégantic Disaster?


| 7/28/2014 1:00:00 PM


Tags: bakkan oil, oil trains, environment,

What has Changed Since the Lac Megantic Disaster

The High Risk of Shipping Bakken Crude by Rail

By Adam Federman

This post originally appeared at Earth Island Journal.

When residents in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic describe the scene after an oil-train derailed and then exploded there last July, they say the burning petroleum was like a wall of fire, or a river of fire. The blaze, which burned for 36 hours, sent flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the air. At one point, the fire was pulling in so much oxygen that nearby trees were whipping about as if in a tropical storm. Several blocks from the blast site leaves turned an orange-red color from the overwhelming heat. It was early summer, but they looked like autumn foliage.

The explosions and fire destroyed some 40 buildings and killed 47 people, most of whom were enjoying live music at a popular cafe. Wooden homes along the lakeshore burned from the inside out as fire erupted out of water pipes, drains, and sewers. A 48-inch storm pipe that runs from the train yard to the nearby Chaudiere River became a conduit for the petroleum, spewing flames and oil more than half a mile into the water. "It looked like a Saturn V rocket," says Robert Mercier, director of environmental services in Lac-Mégantic. Manhole covers on the Boulevard des Veterans exploded as columns of fire shot into the air.

By the time the fire had been contained, the soil surrounding the blast site was a layer of grey ash. "It was like being on the moon," says Sylvaine Perreault, an emergency responder who arrived early Saturday morning. "It was all dust."