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Massive Tanker Explosion Highlights Water, Oil and Chemical Issues

PHOTO: Environmentalists say the derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude oil in Montgomery, West Virginia, highlights the threats to drinking water and public safety from the transportation of oil and other chemicals by rail. Photo credit: The office of Governor Earl Ray Tomlin
PHOTO: Environmentalists say the derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude oil in Montgomery, West Virginia, highlights the threats to drinking water and public safety from the transportation of oil and other chemicals by rail. Photo credit: The office of Governor Earl Ray Tomlin
February 17, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The derailment and massive explosion of a crude oil tanker train highlights threats to drinking water, as well as concerns about shipping crude oil and chemicals, advocates say.

The train derailment in Fayette County on Monday forced American West Virginia Water to suspend tap water supplies to 2,000 residents of Montgomery, 28 miles upstream from Charleston.

Maya Nye, executive director of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, says a train on the same line - also carrying crude oil - derailed in Virginia last April. That accident caused a huge explosion that forced the evacuation of downtown Lynchburg.

"This is the second train derailment of crude oil shipment along this rail line in less than a year," says Nye. "There have been massive explosions. It just goes to show you how dangerous this stuff really is."

Officials say the derailment set 14 tankers on fire and spilled oil into the Kanawha River, set a house on fire and threatened local drinking water. No serious injuries have been reported as a result of the accident.

The derailment and spill come just as the state legislature is considering a bill to roll back oil and gas storage regulations passed after the Elk River chemical spill last year. Nye says many lawmakers want to gut those drinking water protections, but she notes another bill under consideration would add pollution protections on one section of the Kanawha River.

"There was a public hearing talking about removing an exemption from the Kanawha River to try to make it safe for a drinking water source for Charleston," says Nye. "Then this kind of thing happens."

It is unclear if the oil spill upstream will impact the Kanawha River in Charleston.

Dan Heyman/Tommy Hough, Public News Service - WV