ALICEVILLE, Ala. —
“I do agree that they needed to get the rail cars out. But there were other ways to do it,” said Wathen. “Those would have been more expensive.”
James Pinkney, an EPA spokesman in Atlanta, said the rail line had to be fixed quickly to remove oil and damaged rail cars that still contained crude from the wetland.
Agencies are now working with the company and its contractors to recover the remaining oil trapped in the rail bed, but it’s unclear when or how that might happen.
“The EPA and ADEM are continuing to work together to ensure all recoverable oil is removed from the site,” Pinkney said in a written response to questions.
Ed Overton, an environmental sciences professor at Louisiana State University, said spilled crude can linger at a site indefinitely if it’s buried in the ground. Depending on the amount of oil that remains, he said, containment devices may be needed in the swamp for at least a couple of years.
But Bakken crude evaporates quickly once exposed to air because of its composition, said Overton, so the fact that oil remains in the swamp isn’t “the end of the world.”
“It’s going to look bad for awhile,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Mother Nature can handle such things, but it will take time.”
The cause of the derailment — which happened at a wooden trestle that was destroyed by the flames and has since been replaced by buried culverts that let water flow underneath the tracks — remains under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The crash site appears in better shape now than right after the derailment, partly because burned tanker cars misshapen by explosions are gone. Much of the water surrounding the site appears clear, and the odor from the site isn’t bad enough to reach the home of Leila Hudgins, just a few hundred yards away.