When a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil crashed Monday in West Virginia, it offered some exploding video for the evening television news. It also derailed 19 of 109 cars in the train, leaking oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota into a tributary of the Kanawha River. The latter supplies drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians.[pullquote]Will there be reliable drinking water in Alabama or North Dakota after the snow melts in Boston?[/pullquote]

The crash was the latest in a series of accidents, many of them fouling nearby water supplies:

  • March 2013 –  Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark.
  • July 2013 – An onboard fire and resulting brake failure loosed a train carrying millions of gallons of Bakken Crude on a downhill run that derailed in the town of Lac Megantic (Quebec at the Maine border), virtually vaporized the town, and turned the nearby lake and river to black goo.
  • Nov. 2013 – A train carrying 2.7 million gallons of crude oil derailed while crossing a wooden trestle across a wetland near Aliceville, Ala.
  • April 2014 – A derailment sent multiple cars into the James River near Lynchburg, Va.
  • Jan. 2015 – A break in a 12-inch pipeline injected an estimated 50,000 gallons of North Dakota crude beneath the ice of the Yellowstone River. In the past eight years, according to the Associated Press, the pipeline’s owners have leaked nearly 334,000 gallons in 30 such incidents.
  • Jan. 2015 – Three million gallons of well-drilling wastewater poured into the Missouri River from a broken collection pipe in the North Dakota oil field.
  • Feb. 14, 2015 – Twenty-nine cars of a 100-car train carrying tar-sand oil from Alberta, Canada to Eastern Canada derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario.

Those are not nearly all the oil and chemical spills in the past few years. A New York Times story last month reported, “Since March (2013) there have been no fewer than 10 large crude spills in the United States and Canada because of rail accidents.”

The story did not discuss the pipeline breaks, or the coal chemical spill near Charleston, W.Va., a few miles down the Kanawha River from this week’s derailment.

With each accident, news stories tell of investigations underway to determine the cause of the accident. The public is assured everything is being done to prevent future occurrences. In fact, rail companies already have begun using tank cars constructed under new, “safer,” standards. The tankers in Monday’s crash were the newer cars.

There maybe a brief mention that local water supplies have been shut down, and water is being trucked in from a neighboring state, then the national media moves on. More snow is expected to fall on Boston, Mass. Russian-backed rebels are still fighting Ukrainian loyalists. ISIL is still murdering innocent civilians.

Left unanswered, and only barely mentioned by major media, are questions of import to our and future generations: How many residents near the latest train crash or pipeline leak will be left drinking water shipped in from other states? Will there be reliable drinking water in Alabama or North Dakota after the snow melts in Boston?

Here in the U.S., the West Coast has been under a severe drought that has devastated crops from cabbages to wine. The aquifer being used to irrigate much of the nation’s Midwestern food producing region is slated to run dry by 2050 – and Congress is trying to force construction of a 1,200-mile pipeline expansion across it.

We must decide drinking water is more important than oil – while we still have a choice?