Want to know if you live in the "blast zone" of an oil train explosion?
Or curious if your favourite Canadian landmark could be torched by a massive rail derailment carrying crude?
A new interactive map created by ForestEthics -- using Google mapping capabilities together with railroad industry data for the first time -- charts the routes of oil trains across the U.S. and Canada.
Based on an analysis of U.S. census data, the group, based in San Francisco, estimates that more than25 million Americans live within the "blast zone" of an oil train accident.
ForestEthics didn't crunch census numbers in Canada, but the map includes major oil-by-rail routes across the country and allows Canadians to plug in their address or zero in on their favourite stomping ground to see if it's within the one mile blast zone.
Before looking up your address on the Oil Train Blast Zone Map, here are some key facts:
- Canada's rail lines went from carrying 500 carloads of oil in 2009 to an estimated 140,000 carloads in 2013 -- a staggering 28,000% increase. The number continues to climb as the oil industry presses ahead with plans to more than double the amount of oil moving out of Western Canada (mostly Alberta's tar sands) over the next two decades, to 6.7 million barrels a day by 2030.
- A lot of the crude is being transported in old tank cars widely recognized as substandard. Almost80,000 substandard DOT-111 tank cars carrying flammable liquids are rumbling down North American tracks, now the focus of attention of regulators and industry after old tank cars carrying highly explosive Bakken oil were involved in the deadly rail blast in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last July. Forty-seven people died.
- Rail accidents involving dangerous goods are on the rise one year after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, but good luck getting details about highly explosive oil moving through your town in old tank cars.
- Last November, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive requiring railroads to provide municipalities with quarterly reports about the dangerous goods, including highly explosive crude Bakken, moving through their cities. The information, though, is considered confidential for the use of emergency first responders in case of spills, and cities aren’t permitted to release the data to the public.
- Transport Minister Lisa Raitt confirmed last month that the government has no plans to let the public see the info.
Thanks to mapping by ForestEthics, here are 11 Canadian landmarks within the potential oil train blast zones.
The red zone is the 0.5 mile (or 800 metres) evacuation zone for oil train derailments and the yellow zone is the 1 mile (or 1,600 metres) evacuation zone if there's a fire or explosion; these zones were established jointly by the US Department of Transportation and Transport Canada.