5.7 million litres of oil spilled in Lac-Mégantic
It might take weeks before the extent of the damage from the July 6 train derailment in Lac-Mégantic is known, but 16 days after a train carrying crude oil crashed into the heart of Lac-Mégantic, the provincial government has revealed just how much oil appears to have been spilled.
There were 7.2 million litres of light crude oil aboard the ill-fated Montreal Main & Atlantic Railway train, but Quebec’s Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks says about 5.7 million litres were released into the air, water and soil during the derailment.
Of the 72 tankers, which were carrying 100,000 litres each, only nine withstood the impact. Twenty tankers were completely emptied, and an additional 43 — with an estimated 600,000 litres among them — were drained and moved in the cleanup efforts following the deadly explosion.
Earlier reports indicate it took first responders roughly 72 hours after the crash to plug the spilling crude and minimize damage to the nearby Chaudière River, which has its source in Lac Mégantic. Using a dam between the lake and the river, as well as a system of downstream dikes, cleanup crews slowed the flow of contaminated water and were able to pump it out.
The department said that as of Friday, 150,000 litres of oily water had been removed from the lake, and confirmed 51,200 gallons had been removed from the river. All pools of oil on Lac Mégantic have been recovered as well.
Since the oil in the tankers was a light crude, it has been easier for cleanup crews to remove because it floats on water.
“It is still too early to make an overall assessment of the situation,” the department said in an official news release on Monday afternoon, “however, an aerial survey conducted on July 21 reveals no traces of oil on the river, and the points of sporadic accumulation observed last week have disappeared.”
Only small deposits of oil were observed by respondents upstream and downstream of the Sartigan dam in nearby St-Georges.
Following the water cleanup, the land in Lac-Mégantic’s city centre will still have to be decontaminated.
Officials said Monday that some houses in the Red Zone — the epicentre of the accident — will have to be destroyed if they stand on soil that is too badly contaminated.
Inspectors are determining which structures will be taken down on a house-by-house basis.
In comparison, the 2013 ExxonMobil pipeline oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, spilled an estimated 893,000 litres of crude oil, while the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill totalled about 41.6 million litres of crude.
The oil also leaked into the sewer system and burned there, causing “underground explosions [that] cracked sewage pipes and blew manhole covers, with geysers of flames shooting up 10 metres in the air,”.
The oil is not just in the water and the soil either, as “above-ground explosions sprayed oil droplets thousands of feet into the sky, and the wind carried that oily mist as far as eight kilometres from the derailment,” with Lac-Mégantic residents reporting oil coating their cars.