Houston County residents seek rail action

Dear Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Franken, and Rep. Walz:

On Dec. 30, 2013, a train carrying crude oil from the Bakken Oil fields in North Dakota hit another derailed train and exploded near Casselton, N.D., causing the entire town to be evacuated. Media reports of this horrific event shocked all Minnesotans. It alerted us to the tremendous escalation of oil shipments by rail through southeast Minnesota, and it showed in dramatic fashion, the dangers such oil tankers pose to the tens of thousands of us living in communities along the railroad tracks.

Most of this oil is moving on outdated tanker cars called #111s. These substandard, faulty cars can rupture and explode easily upon derailment. The Bakken oil they carry is lighter crude, which is more volatile and likely to ignite. According to experts, the fracking process adds chemicals that make the oil even more explosive. Our emergency response teams would be overwhelmed in the event of a local spill and explosion.

For a decade, the railroad industry has opposed upgrading these tankers. Reports have highlighted the uncertainty among federal regulators just how explosive the Bakken oil is and how it should be regulated.

The federal government needs to immediately reduce the risk that oil tanker explosions pose to communities along railroad routes in southeast Minnesota.

We urge that the following actions be taken now:

• Lower speeds. Restrict oil trains to speed limits of 40 mph or less at all times. Trains moving at lower speeds are much less likely to derail.

• Shorten trains. Limit oil trains to no more than 40 cars. Research indicates that shorter trains are less likely to derail and explode.

• Issue recalls. Begin a phased recall of #111 tankers with the goal that they will all be replaced within one year.

We are relying on you to make a strong commitment of your time and energy to achieving these three goals or other comparable measures that will reduce significantly the risk of exploding oil tankers.

We also want you to focus on the larger problem. Our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels is taking us in the wrong direction. Fracking is one primary example.

In southeast Minnesota, mining for silica sand is one of the negative outcomes of fracking. Silica sand mining, processing and transport are threats to the sensitive groundwater, to recreation and farming, and to our health and well-being. A major concern is that silica sand is a known carcinogen that causes lung cancer and silicosis, an incurable disease.

Like a row of falling dominoes, our current energy policy of more oil gained through more extreme measures sets in motion more and more negative consequences for the people of Minnesota and for all Americans. The destructive silica sand mining in southeast Minnesota makes possible the fracking for oil in North Dakota, which causes a dangerous increase in oil transport by rail on both sides of the Mississippi River, which increases the use of dirty fossil fuels, which produces more heat-trapping CO2 emissions, which leads to worsening climate change.

We want an end to fracking.

We want a National Energy Policy that mobilizes all of this country’s economic, industrial and technological strength to rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels through the widespread development and installation of cleaner energy systems. We want every federal program and all private sector activity to emphasize energy conservation and efficiency.

Thousands of residents in southeast Minnesota are actively fighting against silica sand mining. This is our contribution toward reversing our Nation’s shortsighted and destructive energy policy. We need your leadership to move our country off its fossil fuel addiction.

We are depending on you, Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Franken, and Rep. Walz. Don’t let us down.


Ken Tschumper, La Crescent

Bets Reedy, Houston

Bruce Kuehmichel, Caledonia

Yvonne Krogstad, Spring Grove

Alan Stankevitz, La Crescent

Donna Buckbee, Houston

Michael Fields, Caledonia

Chad Oness, Houston

Joan Redig, Houston

Sarah Wexler-Mann, Houston