(Mosier, Oregon – June 4, 2016)
Sixteen oil tank cars, loaded with oil fracked from the Bakken Oil Fields, derailed and at least four caught fire with at least one exploding in a massive fireball that could be seen for miles at about 12:20 P.M., PDT early Friday afternoon. The oil tank cars were part of a 96-car Union Pacific crude oil train headed from Eastport, ID and bound for Tacoma, WA. The derailment caused the closure of Interstate Highway 84 for miles between The Dalles, OR and Hood River, OR, through Oregon’s scenic Columbia River Gorge, for nearly 11 hours, the evacuation of the entire city of Mosier, OR and about 200 students from two local schools. The train was one of a daily average of 20 UPRR trains that pass through Mosier on a daily basis.
As spilled oil leaked into the river, Mosier’s water treatment plant and sewer lines were rendered non-operational. Private citizens, government officials and state and federal agencies were voicing their concerns over the evacuation situation, which went well into late Saturday night and Sunday morning, disrupting life in that part of the Columbia River Gorge area as residents within a quarter-mile radius of the derailment site. The residents were moved to emergency shelters and a boil water order was issued for the entire community.
Witness and local businessman Brian Shurton told Portland KGW news correspondent Pat Dooris that “The train wasn’t going very fast. It would have been worse if it had been faster.”
Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in Eugene, OR, charged that “Moving oil by rail constantly puts our communities and environment at risk.”
The United States Environmental Protective Agency said the oil spills, which reached as far as six feet offshore, were contained using about 1,000 feet of oil containment boom apparatus, and the Federal Railroad Administration was dispatching an investigative team from its Vancouver, WA Regional Headquarters.
Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Justin Jacobs told Portland TV News KOIN that UPRR had inspected the track through the derailment area at least 6 times since March 21, and that the tank cars that derailed were an allegedly safer model CPC-1232 rather than the older DOT-111 cars that had been blamed for a number of similar accidents.
UPRR Public Relations Manager Raquel Espinoza issued a statement on behalf of the Omaha, NE-headquartered UP corporation, saying “We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest Region. This is the type of accident we work to prevent every day. We do everything that we can to move all hazardous materials safely.”
But the locals were not appeased with the Union Pacific statement. Joining an organized group of over 100 environmentalists, protestors held a rally and march in nearby Hood River, OR Saturday. Mosier City Council President Emily Reed, joined in the rally. She felt the derailment dealt her family a four-pronged insult due to her son having been an evacuee from the school, her firefighter husband being a first responder, her entire family having to evacuate their house, and her father, a local cherry farmer, being unable to ship his first crop from his orchards.
“There is no safe way for these fossil fuel trains to come through our town,” Reed told KOIN, “and I’d like to see them stopped until there are standards and we know it’s safe.” Reed added that she felt “This isn’t a one-off. It’s happening in my town, but next time it’ll be somebody else’s town!”