Concerns about transporting oil after Quebec crash

In Canada Saturday, church bells rang out in the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic to honor the 50 people believed killed in a horrific train explosion one week ago. The disaster near the border with Maine is casting a spotlight on the surging use of trains to transport crude oil supplies.

As Canadian officials investigate the catastrophic train wreck in this small town near the border with Maine, resident Helen Hopkins Greffard questions the railroad's safety procedures.

The amount of crude oil traveling by rail in North America has increased from 9,500 cars in 2008, to more than 233,000 last year.
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"It's just unthinkable that there was only one train engineer or operator who is running this monster," she said. "How could there only be one?"

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Emergency crews have set up booms to capture oil that is contaminating the nearby Chaudiere River.

Last month a rail pierced a tanker and spilled 3,400 gallons of oil into a nearby field.

This is the fourth train accident involving crude oil shipments in Canada this year.

The amount of crude oil traveling by rail in North America has increased from 9,500 cars in 2008, to more than 233,000 last year. That's because domestic oil production is booming -- up 17 percent over the same period -- and there aren't enough pipelines to move all that oil to refineries.

One proposal -- the massive Keystone XL pipeline -- would carry crude through six states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

But there's so much oil being extracted, it won't reduce the hundreds of tank cars rolling through towns like Glasgow, Montana, every day.

Valley County Commissioner Bruce Petersen said oil transported by rail or pipeline both have their downside.

"Someday this Keystone, I'm sure, is going to spring a leak some place," he said, "but anything that's man-made has never been perfect, and people who want a perfect system [are] on the wrong planet, I think."

Dale Tarum, who farms near Fort Peck, Montana, worries about recent derailments in the region.

"There was approximately 35 cars that were derailed, and everything that you would find in a Target store was scattered over the country side," he said. "Well, that's easy to clean up. Bulldozers and a big pit and a lanfill--you can clean that up. What do you do when you've got 37 cars of oil."

In Lac-Megantic, Greffard thinks transporting oil by rail is just too dangerous.

"I don't think the trains will ever come through here again," she said. "People are up in arms."

The American owners of the derailed train in Quebec, the "Montreal Maine & Atlantic Shortline Railway," did not respond to a CBS News request for comment. Publicly, they blame the engineer for failing to set the brakes on the train, which came from North Dakota.

  • Don Dahler

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