With the Gulf oil spill past its 40th day, the destructiveness of petroleum products and the dangers that come with our dependence on them couldn't be more obvious. A fuel transport accident and explosion here in California gives us another view on why we should increase efforts to develop "clean," and presumably less destructive energy sources.
Friday morning, as people across the Southland were readying for Memorial Day weekend, a tanker truck carrying 8,800 gallons of gasoline overturned on the 91 Freeway near Corona. Described as a "chain reaction" crash
, the incident involved another big rig truck and four cars. Astoundingly and thankfully, there were no fatalities, and injuries were described as minor to moderate. The tanker's driver was able to escape the wreckage before the contents ignited and burst into flames
, which witnesses said climbed as high as 100 feet.
Traffic in both directions on the 91 came to a grinding halt, and motorists sat in their cars in the hot sun, trapped in a no-man's land section of freeway without accessible off-ramps. Westbound lanes were released by late afternoon, but eastbound lanes, where the big rig blaze was allowed to burn itself out for environmental reasons, only partially opened by nightfall. Images of the tanker's remains
are stunning — the entire massive vehicle was reduced to a charred metal frame and piles of thick, black ash.
I became curious about the frequency of fuel tanker explosions and was surprised to learn there have been at least two others
in the U.S. this year
, and a handful more that have occurred in this country over the past few years. I was unable to find any definitive statistics about how often tanker trucks explode on our roadways or about how many lives are lost in such accidents.
In April 2007, an overpass in the section of freeway interchanges in Northern California dubbed "MacArthur Maze" by commuters collapsed
from the heat of a burning overturned fuel tanker. Luckily, in that instance, as well, no one was seriously hurt. And speedy architect C.C. Myers
made sure the highly traveled highway was back up and running within an impressive 25 days.
In Friday's 91 Freeway explosion, firefighters allowed the fuel to burn itself off in order to avoid washing gasoline into the nearby Santa Ana riverbed. Hopefully the cleanup effort will be able to contain hazardous materials.
If we put these pieces of the puzzle together — the disastrous Gulf oil spill; the not infrequent tanker crashes with their human and environmental tolls; the coal mine blasts
that claim lives, one of them in April of this year — and then open it up further to include other
pieces like public health issues related to carcinogenic petroleum products, air quality and security issues, the picture should become clear. It's daunting to look at, but we must be able to connect the damage dots in order to spur action toward a safe and sustainable energy future. We'll know we're on the right track the day we put greater effort into innovating renewable and low-impact energy sources than into cleaning up after our current "dirty" ones.
To close on a positive note, though: Philippe Cousteau, Jr
. appeared on "Real Time with Bill Maher" Friday night (watch the interview here
), discussing his observations of the environmental disaster in the Gulf. Though the Gulf spill is a tragedy whose consequences we may experience for decades to come, Cousteau expressed hope for the planet's future and said in his work he sees a whole new generation that is environmentally engaged and committed to preserving our resources and the health of our societies and ecosystems. His optimism is affirmed by the Kids Ocean Day event
that Siel Ju
wrote about here on MNN
last week, which demonstrates the next generation is paying attention.