Lac-Mégantic blast victims remembered

Three hundred people gathered July 6 at the Ezra Prentice Basketball Court in South Albany, N.Y., a poor, predominantly Black neighborhood. They came to mark the one-year anniversary of the explosion and fire that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. That explosion was from a trainload of DOT-111 oil tanker cars carrying thousands of gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude from the fracking fields of North Dakota.

Just across a fence from the basketball court and several row houses is a rail yard. After the catastrophe at Lac-Mégantic, many of the oil trains have been rerouted through Albany. Hundreds of the menacing oil tankers course through that yard every day. Some 2.8 billion gallons of Bakken crude move through Albany every year. Most pass right beside the South Albany community.

One of the oil shipping companies, Global, has applied to set up boilers near the community to heat up Canadian crude shale oil so it can be loaded on barges going down the Hudson River. Community leaders and environmental groups have voiced outrage over the air pollution that such boilers may cause.

The event was organized by PAUSE — People of Albany United for Safe Energy — and the St. John’s Church of God in Christ. Speaker after speaker, most from the community, demanded that DOT-111 oil tanker cars be barred from entry into Albany and the rest of the country. Pastor McKinnley Johnson called this a clear case of “environmental racism.”

Memorial rallies were also held in other New York cities and towns, including Plattsburgh, near the border with Quebec; Saugerties; and Saratoga. Hundreds of oil train cars pass through Plattsburgh on their way to Albany.

Thousands of people also attended a memorial in Lac-Mégantic itself.