Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Megantic, Fracking & Money

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Megantic, Fracking & Money

Article excerpt

EARLY SPECULATION on what caused the train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July seems to have settled on the role of the train's engineer and the railway company's poor safety record--and penchant for cutting corners. Some attention was also paid to the outdated technology used for dangerous cargo, deregulated railroads and Transport Canada's increasing reliance on rail companies to patrol and enforce their own safety rules.

But one glaring question about what went wrong in that sleepy Quebec mining community received little attention: Why were 72 tanker cars full of crude oil from a small prairie town 3,000 kilometres away bound for a refinery in Saint John, NB? The answer is not a training-related, regulatory or technical one. It's a reflection of the new economics of North American oil, which--despite their abstract nature--can contribute to disaster just as any engineer's failure to engage a handbrake.

The train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale "play," an ancient rock formation covering parts of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Discovered in the 1950s (and named for the farmer upon whose land the first well was drilled), the deposit saw limited activity because the oil was not easily recoverable. But in 2008, new rock-fracturing (fracking) technology became available, triggering a production boom. By the end of 2010, the flow of black gold had reached 458,000 barrels per day, outstripping the capacity of local pipelines. …

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