This morning, as is the case most mornings, the noisy rumble of the train precedes my viewing its linear passage at the bottom of our hayfield. It is one of a number that will pass by this day, this week, these months, full of fracked oil and volatile gases from North Dakota, traveling right alongside Lake Champlain down to Albany, where it will be put on barges to be floated on down to New Jersey to be refined.
Familiar to those of us in Essex that cross over or live anywhere near the tracks, these over-one-hundred-tanker-car trains elicit a deep feeling of dread and concern. We have read about how they have blown up and killed people and destroyed a small town like ours just north of here. In the event of a catastrophic derailment, Lake Champlain, the forests, the farm fields, not to mention our neighbors that live right along the tracks are at risk.
Will the Department of Transportation’s proposed regulations be timely enough and adequate to protect us? And how about our first responders? Are they adequately protected, equipped and prepared?
These are some arguments I hear:
“Trains are better than pipelines.”
“We need the natural gas: it is cheaper and puts less greenhouse gases into the air than coal when burned.”
“We need energy independence from foreign oil.”
“Fracking creates lots of jobs.”
There are counter arguments to all of these. Some of the statements are simply wrong (the fracking process for natural gas puts more carbon into the air than is saved by burning it as an alternative to coal or oil); some are misleading: lots of job, yes, but highly local and short term. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to spend a great deal of time addressing these arguments and not directly addressing the elephant in the room: climate change.
These trains are symbolic of a mind-boggling foolishness: We are poisoning water, air, land, risking people’s lives, and destroying communities (my husband and I have been to the Baakan oil fields and witnessed this) to get more of something that we should not be using so much of, anyway!
Big, overwhelming issue? Yes. It is far easier to hide our collective heads in the sand and pretend that we just don’t see the problem. And besides, what can we really do about it?
What Can We Do?
We can begin by educating ourselves. Here is a link to a fine video about the Pacific Northwest produced by Vice News. It includes a primer on the tanker cars rolling through Essex every day: (https://news.vice.com/video/bomb-trains). Or watch it below.
We can voice our concern. Some of us went up to Plattsburgh last month to protest the oil trains. We can write letters to the editor, and we can ask our government officials what they are doing to keep us safe.
- Oil Trains in the Champlain Valley: A Public Discussion at the Grange (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Postcard: Gem of the Lake (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Postcard: Essex, NY from Lake Champlain (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Photo: Inside the Old Dock Tavern (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Adirondack History Center Museum 2014 Event Schedule (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)