Investigating the Doon tar sands oil spill

Dear Friends,

Nearly one month after the spill, oil still sits by the Little Rock River near Doon, Iowa (Photo Credit: David Thoreson Image)

Christine Nobiss, David Thoreson, and I traveled to northwest Iowa this week to investigate the June 22 tar sands oil spill near Doon (check out our livestream). We spoke with Iowa DNR and Lyon County officials, a landowner, an engineer working at the site, a reporter with the N’West Iowa REVIEW, and KSFY TV (check out KSFY’s story here).

David Thoreson: Water quality advocate, sailor, photo-journalist

We learned a lot!

— Lyon County officials did an excellent job as first responders during the hours and days immediately following the spill. Kudos to them.

Christine Nobiss with Seeding Sovereignty and Indigenous Iowa

— Similarly, the DNR (which has replaced the EPA as the point agency for clean-up) has done a fine job — so far. But there are red flags in terms of the DNR’s ongoing ability to assure adequate clean-up and protection of the public health. As with any big corporation these days, holding BNSF and Conoco/Phillips accountable for full restoration of the damage they caused will require tenacity and persistence — by government officials, the media, and most important, the public.

We have three main concern about state government’s role in the clean up:

(1) The DNR’s lack of clarity on how long it will take,

(2) Uncertainty about the DNR’s role in ongoing water testing, and

(3) State officials’ unfamiliarity with tar sands oil — which presents a unique, complex, and dangerous set of threats and challenges.

Damaged oil trains. (Photo credit: David Thoreson Image)

— While BNSF seems to have acted quickly (unlike the thoroughly botched response of Enbridge after the 2010 tar sands spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River), it remains to be seen whether they’ll follow through. As with two previous major tar sands spills, many observers question whether it’s even possible to fully restore impacted land and waterways. Given the nature of tar sands oil, we would, unfortunately, not be surprised to see irreparable long-term damage.

— Finally, we’re concerned that climate change continues to be ignored. The bottom line is, we must move beyond further exploitation, transport, and consumption of fossil fuels. If we fail, local harm to land, water, and property will be a mere footnote to the existential damage inflicted upon people and planet by a rapidly changing climate on fossil-fuel steroids.

Oil sits on farm ground. (Photo credit: David Thoreson Image)

One further note: We didn’t have time to contact EPA officials, and a call by Christine to BNSF has not yet been returned.

To conclude, we’ve just begun our work regarding this spill. While Bold Iowa’s current focus is to support the Sierra Club and landowners along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline in their lawsuit against the Iowa Utilities Board, we must continue to provide on-the-ground support to the families, water, and land immediately affected by this spill.

We also have to hold government and corporate officials accountable. These days, that’s often not an easy assignment.

PLEASE CONSIDER A DONATION TO SUPPORT BOLD IOWA’S WORK ON THE DOON OIL SPILL!  We couldn’t accomplish our work without you. Stay tuned for further updates, and thanks for reading.

Ed Fallon

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Meet the Marchers

Dear Friends,

Climate March mobile “bathrooms” — complete with showers and commodes

Just like planet Earth, preparations for the First Nation – Farmer Climate Unity March are heating up. This past weekend, Sarah Spain and Chap Myers scouted the route between Des Moines and Fort Dodge. We’re now closing in on locating the seven campsites we’ll need for the September 1 – 8 march.

Also, Sarah and her brother, Sean, are working on improvements to our “Mobile Bathroom” unit — a trailer that hauls both environmentally friendly commodes and solar showers. Besides the trailer’s functional importance, it showcases the technologies that will lead us beyond climate chaos into a sustainable future.

We’re thrilled that Lyssa Wade — a.k.a., Veggie Thumper — will provide food for our hungry marchers and guests each night of the March. Lyssa needs someone to repair her bus’s refrigerator. If you’ve got expertise in that area, or know of someone who does, please get in touch with me.

Lyssa Wade and the “Veggie Thumper” bus

As if to underscore the urgency of the March, BNSF Railway recently spilled upwards of 230,000 gallons of tar sands oil (the worst of the worst) into the Little Rock River, just a few miles from where Bakken oil flows through the Dakota Access Pipeline in Lyon County, Iowa. Mahmud Fitil shot some excellent video of the oil spill. That inspired Krystle Craig to take water samples at seven locations — from just upstream of the spill to Omaha. Here’s video footage of Krystle’s work. From everything we’ve seen, the spill appears to be worse than railway officials are willing to admit. Stay tuned for more.

David Houston with Homes4MyPeeps

Back to the March. I’m excited about the commitment, passion, and diversity of those stepping forward to join the March. David Houston of Des Moines understands the connection between climate change, food, and the challenges facing low-income communities. He writes, “I’ve never done a march, but this seems like a good way to get connected. I run Homes4MyPeeps to restore homes for low-income people. Part of what I do involves growing and eating good, healthy food. People need to start thinking about what they eat, because when we eat better and put the right fuel into our systems, we feel better, too.”

Trisha Etringer

Trisha Etringer is a Hochunk woman from Cedar Falls. She writes, “I’m marching for Indigenous rights, landowner rights, and clean water for my children. They and other children deserve clean water and a healthy way of living. I’m majoring in psychology and minoring in mental health at UNI. My experience at Standing Rock was eye opening. My time there woke me up to the importance of fighting to protect Mother Earth. I had never done anything like that in my life and was pregnant at the time. If I’d not gone to Standing Rock I’m not sure where I’d be today.”

Fred Kirschenmann is a life-long farmer who’s joining the March for the first four days. He writes, “I grew up on a farm in North Dakota under the tutelage of a father who developed a passion, as a result of the dust bowl in the 1930s, about how important it was to ‘take care of land.’ He instilled that value in me, so it has also become a passion of mine. During my life-time its importance has only increased in me.”

Fred Kirschenmann

This March is important for so many reasons, especially with the landowner/Sierra Club lawsuit coming before the Iowa Supreme Court in September. We can accommodate fifty marchers each day. If you’d like to join us, please visit the First Nation – Farmer Climate Unity March where you’ll find an application, a FAQ sheet, our Code of Nonviolence, a link to the marcher profile page, and more.

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

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