Train derailment spills oil in Quebec. Will it affect Maine?
Train derailment in eastern Quebec caused multiple explosions and spilled oil into the Chaudiere River. Since the river flows north, the oil train derailment is not expected to impact Maine's air or water.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP
Maine environmental officials are monitoring the runawayÂ trainÂ derailment in eastern Quebec but do not expect theÂ oilÂ spill and fires to affect the state's air or water.
The 73-car derailment Saturday caused multiple explosions in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, about 10 miles west of Maine. About 30 buildings were destroyed after tanker cars laden withÂ oilÂ caught fire, and several cars continued to burn Sunday. The death toll reached five and was expected to rise.
Maine officials were notified about concerns about the smoke from the fire but staff meteorologists don't believe it will have a significant impact, Peter Blanchard of the state Department of Environmental Protection said Sunday. And whileÂ oilÂ spilled in the Chaudiere River, it flows north and thus would not impact Maine waters, he said.
Blanchard said his office is in touch with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, railroad officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate any assistance that may be necessary.
"As expected, initial efforts have been focused on extinguishing the fire and investigating missing persons," said Blanchard, director of response services at the agency. "Our thoughts go out to the citizens of Lac-Megantic."
TrainsÂ carried nearly 5.3 million barrels of light crudeÂ oilÂ across Maine last year, primarily movingÂ oilÂ from North Dakota to a Canadian refinery, and the volume is growing. The increased activity is part of a national trend: As U.S.Â oilÂ production has increase in areas with limited pipeline capacity, so, too, has transport ofÂ oilÂ by rail.
Concerned about the increase, Maine has begun developing protection plans for the areas where theÂ trainsÂ travel. Staff members in Blanchard's division have ridden in Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. cars from the Canadian border to Greenville, identified areas that would allow access for staging equipment and are using mapping software to identify sensitive natural resources, water bodies and drinking water sources near rail lines.
"It is a work in progress," Blanchard said. "Our state is large geographically and heavily forested. We continue to prepare andÂ trainÂ with our public and private partners."
In March, a Pan Am RailwaysÂ oilÂ trainÂ derailed about 100 yards from the Penobscot River in Mattawamkeag, but only a tiny amount ofÂ oilÂ â€” measured in drips â€” spilled. But it was enough to raise concerns among environmentalists.
The Quebec derailment is reason enough to call for an immediate moratorium on the rail transport ofÂ oilÂ through Maine, said Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club's Maine chapter.
"This tragic accident is part of the larger problem of movingÂ oilÂ through Maine and northern New England," he said. "It reinforces the importance of moving away from dirty fossil fuels that expose the people of northern New England, Maine and Quebec to a host of dangerous risks."