About 30 million gallons of crude oil are transported from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to New Jersey and surrounding states every week. Forgive the sensation, but they’re ticking time bombs, and lawmakers know it.
The oil, as well as liquefied natural gas, comes through NJ—often through densely populated areas—on dozens of trains every day. Lawmakers aren’t trying to curb the amount that come through necessarily, but a bill (S-991) that recently passed the state Senate Transportation Committee last month would at least put protocols in place if a spill or disaster were to occur.
Like in 2013, in Quebec, when 47 people were killed after a massive explosion of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota. Or in 2014, when 30,000 gallons of oil spilled into the James River in southwest Virginia. Or in 2017, when a train crashed and 10-12 cars carrying oil exploded in a residential neighborhood in Mississippi.
“When a train carrying Bakken crude oil derails, it is a disaster. If it happened in New Jersey, it would be a tragedy of epic proportions. That is why we need this legislation,” says outgoing NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
The bill would require oil train operators to submit a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan to the state, while also mandating the state Department of Environmental Protection to request periodic bridge inspections.
Says bill co-sponsor Loretta Weinberg, “If we cannot stop the flow of these trains that pose great potential danger to our communities, we must ensure that there are plans in place that will limit the damage to our environment and to the lives of New Jersey residents if disaster strikes.”
The bill would be a first step toward curbing the dangers of oil transport by rail. Lawmakers could also require operators to disclose to emergency personnel when they’re bringing through explosive material (which they’re not currently required to do); phase out old models of oil tank cars that are more prone to explosion upon collision; and, well, we could lessen our collective dependence on fossil fuels.