Nasa Earth Observatory has a photograph of the recent derailment of a train of Bakken Crude burning and/or exploding in a small town in Quebec.

The image "was acquired at 6:59 GMT (2:59 a.m. local time) on July 6 by the instrument’s “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as city lights, auroras, fires, and reflected moonlight. The image on the left, shown for comparison, was acquired by the same instrument on July 4, before the derailment. Light sources are not as crisp in the July 6 image because of cloud cover."

The image “was acquired at 6:59 GMT (2:59 a.m. local time) on July 6 by the instrument’s “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as city lights, auroras, fires, and reflected moonlight. The image on the left, shown for comparison, was acquired by the same instrument on July 4, before the derailment. Light sources are not as crisp in the July 6 image because of cloud cover.”

The death total from this event is still unknown. I believe there are about 13 known dead but several are missing and believed to have been incinerated to the point where they may not be found.

We don’t know the full story yet, but it appears that the derailment may have been caused because the break system on the train was turned off by first responders who had come to put out a small fire, and in so doing, turned off the train’s engines. The engines were idling to power the break system, necessary because the train was parked on a grade. It would appear (this is a guess so far) that the oil cars tugged down slope and detached from the engine. This track is normally used at low speeds, between 5 and 10 mph or so, but the oil cars came into town at about 30mph, derailed, smushed together and caught on fire.

We do not know if pipelines are safer than rail (or other) transport of oil and other flammable materials. My guess is that while both systems would likely have very different problems, one may well be safer than the other, and one may be more energy efficient than the other (and one would involve more labor than the other). We are starting to see arguments that since rail is more dangerous (which it may or may not be) we should therefore build the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is like saying that since trained soldiers are better at operating weapons than others, we must therefore go to war. That’s crazy talk and I hope everyone gets that.

Anyway, it’s always interesting when something happens on Earth that can be seen from space. So there you go.

Comments

  1. #1 Melanie
    July 10, 2013

    Amazing. I don’t suppose they have a movie version?

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    July 10, 2013

    It’s also amazing how bright that fireball was. I think I can identify some of the cities to the west and south of Quebec City, including Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres, which are the next two largest cities in Quebec after Montreal/Laval (just off the western edge of the images) and Quebec City. The fireball appears to be brighter than Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres combined.

    Also noteworthy is that you can see a portion of the US border. Northern Maine has a much lower population density than most adjacent regions of Quebec. The plan was presumably to send this train across Maine, which is a significantly shorter distance between Montreal and Fredericton than a route parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway. There has been intermittent talk of building an east-west motorway across Maine, for the same reason (probably on hold because border crossing delays would eat up most of the time advantage for trucks on such a route).

  3. #3 bakeca Ragusa
    http://ragusa.dbakeca.com
    July 11, 2013

    scary article

  4. #4 Magpie
    July 11, 2013

    “Anyway, it’s always interesting when something happens on Earth that can be seen from space. So there you go.”

    You know what else is visible from space? My house. Right there on Google Maps.
    :P

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 12, 2013

    That’s not space, thought. That’s air.