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Bakken Crude – not your father’s oil

Frankly I am getting bored with the entire political situation concerning the coming oil trains. On one side we have the port and their hangers-on, out of work brother-in-laws, politicians smelling a payday, the unions rubbing their hands together at the anticipated fifty new jobs. And on the other side, a few people running around pointing at the falling sky.

Enough already.

Look folks, this isn’t a republican or a democrat issue here. This is literally life and death. Death for the property values of anyone unfortunate enough to own business or personal property anywhere near the railroad tracks, and life….well….for you.

Let me explain. Putting aside the out of date infrastructure that will carry said rolling Exxon Valdez size trains through our neighborhoods and over our streams, lets take a quick look at the oil itself.

Bakken Crude oil is a very special toxic blend. So special, we need to be aware of what you will be breathing in as you wait for up to an hour for the parked train to finally start moving. Bakken produces a well-known carcinogen called Benzene. Benzene is known to cause leukemia among other nasty things.

Bakken crude produces Hydrogen sulphide as it rises to the surface when heated and shaken. At this point I might need to remind the reader that during the summer, it is indeed hot and the trains do shake.

According to reporting in the Edmonton Journal, this is the condition believed to have occurred in the recent Canadian train disaster where the highly explosive hydrogen sulphide rose to the top of the cars prior to the derailment. Ten times the level in Bakken crude as in what is compared with conventional crude oil.

They are still trying to gather information, but it is proving difficult as THE ENTIRE TOWN EXPLODED AND THE BODIES VAPORIZED.

It gets worse.

Apparently, what is listed as being shipped in these oil tank cars may not exactly be what is in them, at least according to reporting by Bloomberg news. The Canadian investigators are asking questions. It might be hard to get the correct response from the company as they have just declared bankruptcy in the face of having to clean up this mess. I expect we would see the same should an accident occur here in Grays Harbor, after all…we are expendable. Not one of our state, county, or city officials have bothered to require these shipping companies to have a bond in place to clean up and make whole, anything or anyone damaged by a spill or explosion. Why….you ask? Good question, I can’t get an answer.

Calls from the United States Senate as recently as this year, are calling to completely phase out the aging DOT -111 tank car that is prone to spills, fires, and tears. Let me repeat that. Spills, fires, and tears.

The railroad industry is strongly fighting the new regulation estimated to cost as much as one billion dollars to properly fit these older tank cars to carry the new Bakken crude oil. The same Bakken crude oil and tank cars scheduled to start rolling into Grays Harbor and down the throat of Elma and Montesano in 2014.

While Bakken crude, in it’s raw state produces a lighter oil, along the way, “mixing” facilities are being used to blend the oil, further confusing the original transportation documents. These guys know what they are doing. In short, we have no idea what is on those trains by the time they reach our county border, how dangerous the chemical mix is, or any hope that they will be inspected.

While there are many chemical elements we as residents need to be aware of, it is the Hydrogen sulphide that seems to be the major concern. In addition to the problems of explosion outlined above, we also need to be just as concerned of leakage into the air. Hydrogen sulphide, in its gaseous form is an asphyxiant that not only alters oxygen, but your central nervous system – this according to the U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is akin to nerve gas.

A normal amount of Hydrogen sulphide the community here in Montesano might somewhat assume is safe, if there is such a thing, would be 5 parts per million. They are finding levels as high as 1,200 parts per million in Canadian investigations of the Bakken crude shipped to them from the United States. Again, the same Bakken crude coming to Grays Harbor.

Nationwide, concerns about transporting this Bakken crude are boiling to the surface, much as the Hydrogen sulphide. In a July 29th 2013 letter to the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based lobbying and standards group for the oil and gas industry, the railway administration outlined increasing worry about the interior of these outdated tanker cars. They seem to be corroding from this new Bakken crude and its mixing agents. Further stating that they can only “speculate” as to the number of cars in violation of hazardous materials regulation.

The NTSB, Chairman Deborah Hersman, is estimating that currently 69 percent of existing rail tank cars have a “high incidence of tank failure during accidents.” This figure does not take into account the continued corrosion by the added chemicals to the interior of the cars and its effect going forward. The figure is probably worse. Much worse.

I have to state up front that I am not personally an anti-fracking nut. It is a proven means to extract oil we desperately need in this country. However, the chemicals used during the fracking process contain ethylene glycol, the carcinogen naphthalene, hydrochloric acid, more….all highly flammable. Other chemicals in the witches brew contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a substance that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says are associated with cancer. We frankly don’t know what else is being added during the “mixing and blending” process stations along the way. They aren’t inspected and no one seems interested in looking.

I could go on…do I really need to.

Our current port commissioners, as well as our elected leaders, both city City of Montesano and county, with the exception of Grays Harbor Commissioner Frank Gordon, are as silent as church mice on this. My question to the community is simple. What are we paying these guys for? It certainly isn’t looking out for us, our county, or even the basic health and safety of our children.

Is it unreasonable for our elected leaders to require that what is listed as being in the tanker cars, actually be in the tanker cars? Is it unreasonable to ask our elected leaders to require a bond, that can not be dismissed away in the event of a bankruptcy, to protect us financially? Is it unreasonable to require that the tracks and bridges be inspected by someone other than in the employ of the railroad, as is the current state. If these basic questions can not be addressed, we must begin as citizens to question both the motives and competency of those we have put in office.

The usually outraged environmentalists are oh-so polite over this issue, afraid to call attention to their fellow Democrats in Olympia, and their lack of concern at the state level. Not opinion, observable fact. Has anyone heard a word from our Governor on this? You know the guy, he just ran for office as an environmentalist.

We are selling our collective future for a handful of silver that will magically never trickle down into our economy past the people with a stake in this. A paltry fifty temporary jobs. Their numbers, not mine.

The area from Porter to Montesano a potential wasteland of cancer causing, explosive laden leaking chemicals….and yet, not a peep from those we elect to serve and protect us. My disgust doesn’t stop at the elected. The apathy of the community which fuels our leaders to their in-action, and belief that you and I are expendable, in their quest for personal agendas must be addressed. Hopefully, before it is too late.

Tom Frederiksen grew up in Montesano and lives here today with an active blog at montesanotoday.com. Contact him at montesanotoday@gmail.com.

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