Rally Against Oil Trains’ Threat To Water
VIOREL FLORESCU/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Protesters at Old Hook and Schraalenburgh roads in Closter on Saturday calling for a halt to shipments of volatile crude oil.
CLOSTER — In the wake of a spate of derailments nationwide, more than 100 protesters rallied near the Oradell Reservoir on Saturday, speaking out against the oil trains that pass across that mainstay of the region’s water supply.
Every week, an estimated 15 to 30 trains carry as much as 3.6 million gallons of volatile crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota through eastern Bergen County. The line, which is owned by the transportation company CSX, passes through 11 Bergen County municipalities and across a neck of the reservoir, which is the water supply for 750,000 people in Bergen and Hudson counties.
Coincidentally, a train carrying crude oil derailed in northern Ontario early Saturday, causing numerous tank cars to catch fire and spill into a river system, authorities in the Canadian province said.
Oil transportation by rail has skyrocketed in recent years, up from 9,500 carloads in 2008, to 500,000 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads. This jump coincides with increased oil production from the Bakken area, which has limited pipeline capacity.
The protest in Closter focused on the threat the oil trains pose to the drinking water and to county residents along the line’s route through eastern Bergen County.
An oil spill into the reservoir would be devastating, said Capt. Bill Sheehan of the Hackensack Riverkeeper conservation group.
“We strike a fragile balance when it comes to our water supply,” he said.
If the reservoir were contaminated, it would take weeks or months to clean, he said.
Speakers varied in their approaches to the oil-train issue. Some advocated safer train cars to transport the oil, some considered a pipeline even safer, and others believed that alternative energy sources were the only solution.
All were in agreement that the trains posed a threat.
“We need to get rid of these pipe bombs on wheels,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.
On Thursday, 21 cars of a train of 105 derailed in rural Illinois. Five of the cars caught fire.
In February in West Virginia, a 19-car derailment burned for more than 24 hours, destroying a nearby house and shooting fireballs into the sky. Hundreds of families were evacuated and two water treatment plants were shut down. No major injuries were reported.
Saturday’s derailment in a remote section of Ontario involved 10 train cars — some of which caught fire and entered the Mattagami River System, police said.
United Water, which owns the reservoir, is working with the county and CSX to come up with an emergency response plan in the event of a spill, said Rich Henning, a spokesman for the utility.
“Our drinking water here is a precious commodity, and we want to safeguard it as much as we possibly can, both from the standpoint of preserving our resource and from the standpoint of protecting it,” Henning said.
A CSX spokesman said that safety is the company’s highest priority.
“We invest more than $1 billion annually in the maintenance of our tracks, bridges and signals to ensure that they are safe and capable of handling our customers’ freight,” spokesman Rob Doolittle said.
The company has also advocated for safer oil cars, he said.
Rosemary Dreger Carey, who helped organize the protest, said she was thrilled with the turnout on Saturday. “This is really on people’s minds,” she said.