Mayor Pugh Signs Landmark Bill to Protect Baltimore from Dangerous Crude Oil Shipments
On March 28, 2018 Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition, protecting Baltimoreans from an increase in dangerous crude-by-rail traffic and positioning Baltimore as a national leader on climate action.
On March 12, the Baltimore City Council took a stand for healthy communities and a stable climate by passing the bill 14-1 to ban new or expanded crude oil terminals in the city. Additional or expanded terminals would bring more trains carrying crude oil through Baltimore neighborhoods, increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic explosion and enabling expanded oil drilling across North America.
“Mayor Pugh, the City Council, and the countless Baltimore residents who have fought to make this possible have made Baltimore a national leader in this policy to protect our people and the planet from crude oil. By cutting off the demand for crude oil trains to travel to and from Baltimore, we protect both our own residents and communities along railways linking us with extraction sites ,” said Jennifer Kunze of Clean Water Action. “If other cities follow Baltimore’s lead, we can all protect each other.”
“This proves that local governments can take real steps to fight climate change and can act to protect residents from risky transport of potentially explosive materials,” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “Now communities living near rail lines in Baltimore will not have to fight off proposals for these terminals one by one.”
"This is a huge step forward in the fight for healthy communities and a stable climate," said Taylor Smith-Hams of CCAN Action Fund. “By signing this bill, Mayor Pugh has upheld her commitment to take concrete action on climate change and has positioned Baltimore as a national leader in the transition to a more just, sustainable future."
Background: Starting about a decade ago, transport of crude oil by rail skyrocketed in the midst of the fracking boom in the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota and in tar sands extraction in Canada, and a string of derailments followed. The worst incident occurred when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013, killing 47 people and leveling the town.
165,000 Baltimoreans live in the crude oil train “blast zone” – the area that could be directly impacted if a train were to derail and explode in the city. There have been a number of major incidents with freight trains and rail infrastructure in Baltimore, including derailments in 2001 and 2016 inside the Howard Street Tunnel and the 2014 collapse of 26th Street onto the CSX tracks below.
While crude-by-rail shipments have declined somewhat over the last two years as the price of oil has dropped, from 2009 to 2014 rail transit of petroleum multiplied because of the hydraulic fracturing boom. Recently, the International Energy Agency predicted that crude-by-rail shipments could see "colossal" growth over the next two years. The IEA estimates that crude-by-rail exports from Canada to the U.S. could more than double over the next two years, increasing to 390,000 barrels per day in 2019, up from 150,000 barrels a day in late 2017.
The last time there was a spike in crude-by-rail shipments, Baltimore saw a proposal for a new crude oil terminal that would have brought an additional 383 million gallons of crude oil - roughly one train of 35 cars per day - through the city annually. That terminal was opposed by surrounding communities and failed to gain approval from the state environmental agency due to a flawed permit application. Since then, over 3,000 Baltimoreans have signed petitions against crude-by-rail transit and have fought for years for City action on crude oil trains.
Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, and South Portland, ME have used their zoning codes to guard against crude oil facilities. By passing this bill, Baltimore has positioned itself as a leader on the East Coast and joined the ranks of cities taking serious climate action.