A year ago today, in the small hours of the morning, a parked oil train slipped its brakes, rolled downhill, and derailed in a small town in Quebec. When the tank cars breached, they caught fire and erupted into a towering fireball that leveled several blocks of town and incinerated 47 people almost instantly.

That horrific disaster ushered in a new era of fear about crude oil-by-rail shipments.

Two weeks earlier Sightline had published the first regional inventory anywhere of oil-by-rail projects. We pointed out that Oregon and Washington are home to nearly a dozen active or proposed oil train depots that in aggregate would move about as much crude as the Keystone XL Pipeline—and far more than the region’s oil refining capacity. We released the report widely, and the response we got back sounded a lot like crickets chirping.

But after the explosion in Quebec, our phones started ringing off the hook.

  • As a result of growing interest in the subject, we devoted ourselves to researching and explaining the issue. Here are some of the most important things we’ve learned about oil-by-rail since Lac-Mégantic:

    The Lac-Mégantic disaster was not a one-time event. In the months that followed, oil trains blew up in Alabama, New Brunswick, North Dakota, and Virginia. Thankfully, no one else was killed.

    Yet the risks remain very real for communities across North America, and particularly in the Northwest, where the oil industry has its sights set on a massive increase in oil trains. Most controversial are three proposed terminals in Grays Harbor and a titanic oil transfer facility planned for the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington.