Train Wrecks and an Ag Summit

Galena Train Derailment

Galena Train Derailment

As punctuation to my article Why Bakken Oil is Dirty, last Thursday’s BNSF oil train derailment in a remote area near Galena, Ill. tells the story better than I could.

It is the third Bakken oil train derailment in the last three weeks according to National Public Radio.

Carrying light sweet crude to market from the Bakken field, the train derailed on tracks inaccessible to first responders, rupturing at least five tank cars of 21 that left the tracks, igniting a pyre that could be seen for miles. No one was injured and officials are investigating the causes. Because of the location, accessible only via a bicycle path, fire fighters decided to let the fire burn itself out. Remediation of the oil spill will be difficult because of the location, but no oil has made its way to the Mississippi River yet. As I write, the fire is still burning.

BNSF was quick to report the rail cars were a newer, safer model voluntarily designed to be less prone to rupture. Critics say it’s not good enough. Being a level headed Iowan, I’m willing to wait until the investigation is complete before condemning anyone but ourselves and our addiction to fossil fuels.

“In the coming days, we need to look at not just the safety of the rail cars, but the safety of what is being put into those cars,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin told NPR. “There is mounting evidence that stricter standards are needed in the handling of Bakken crude which appears to be particularly volatile. We can’t wait. The safety of our communities depends on it.”

News coverage of the accident revealed that the State of North Dakota will require oil producers to remove excess natural gas from the crude oil before shipping it by rail to help reduce volatility, according to NPR. What exactly that means, and whether it will make a difference is uncertain. It confirms what I said in my last article about the volatile nature of the Bakken crude oil being shipped, and the role the refining process plays in its volatility.

Photo Credit: Quad City Times

Photo Credit: Quad City Times

While the Galena fire burned, Bruce Rastetter’s Des Moines Ag Summit proceeded on schedule, serving up Republican nostrums the way cattle in a CAFO are fed. All twittering eyes were on the summit, leaving a void among Democrats. Democrats don’t have anything similar to this, so it was a great way for Republicans to build party support. Disagreement and agreement with looney ideas is part of Republican party-building, and they are getting better at it with each election cycle.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who demonstrated at the Ag Summit and held their own event, are neither Democrats nor lefties, despite repeated corporate media attempts to characterize them that way. In my experience, they are issue-oriented individuals who band together to make points about life in Iowa, using visible, direct action tactics in their advocacy. The reason they receive media characterization at all is Democrats cede the space to Republicans on these presidential candidate cattle calls. There is nothing else for political reporters and bloggers to cover.

Rastetter contributed over $60,000 to the Branstad-Reynolds re-election, and $1.49 million to various candidates over the last 16 years according to FollowtheMoney.org. Who is the Democratic equivalent? Maybe Fred Hubbell, who gave $60,000 to the Hatch-Vernon campaign.

Hubbell may be well known to political insiders but most Democrats only know vaguely that he is an attorney, if they even know that. He would be no useful substitute to the hated, loved, and very public Rastetter.

Democrats had the Harkin Steak Fry as a comparable event, although last year’s was to have been the last. Maybe it will return, but that’s up to Harkin, not us.

For the first time in a long while, I didn’t hear that our county party was having an off-year caucus last week until after it had begun. I arrived home from work just as it was finishing. If a couple of people hadn’t been covering it on twitter, it would have passed unseen. That’s a train wreck of a different kind.

As we hope for spring, society begins to make more sense. For now, winter’s cold remains, and there’s plenty to keep us busy as we sustain our lives on the Iowa prairie.

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