Oil and Water Don’t Mix:

Glacier National Park and the Flathead Watershed Under Threat

Up to 40 million gallons of Bakken crude oil are being transported through the Middle Fork Flathead River corridor each week. Between 2000 and 2012, 37 freight trains derailed in this corridor.

Bakken crude oil is highly flammable, explosive and toxic. Just one derailment and oil spill in the Middle Fork corridor could have disastrous long-term impacts on people and their livelihoods, our communities, and our local economy.

Clean water supplies, fish and wildlife and their habitats, and scenic vistas and recreation opportunities that draw people from around the nation and world all are at risk.

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Q: What's at stake?

A: Glacier National Park and the Great Bear Wilderness Area border the Middle Fork corridor. An explosion and fire from an oil train derailment and spill during the summer could ignite a firestorm in Glacier Park.

Q: What about Flathead Lake?

A: Flathead Lake is downstream. It is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River and one of the cleanest large lakes anywhere in populated areas of the world. Its 6 million acre watershed is one of our nation's most pristine and scenic areas.

Q: Are aquifers also at risk?

A: Yes. Shallow groundwater aquifers – less than 50 feet and in many places less than 5 feet deep – lie along the Middle Fork and mainstem Flathead Rivers. The water moves through porous gravels as far as a mile from the river. The aquifer supports a complex network of organisms that cleanse the water, providing clean water for people, fish and wildlife, and supports unique riparian habitats.

Q: Can’t we just clean up the oil if there’s a spill?

A: Long-time Flathead Lake Biological Station Director Dr. Jack Stanford conducted research on the Middle Fork and its complex connected groundwater and riparian system over many years. He believes that effective response to a spill in the Middle Fork corridor would be impossible.

Q: Who are the Flathead Lakers?

A: The Flathead Lakers, with over 1,500 members, have been working to protect clean water in Flathead Lake and its watershed since 1958. We believe current federal regulations are not adequate to prevent future derailments and oil spills in the Middle Fork canyon or anywhere else.

Q: So what’s the solution?

A: Stronger safety measures are urgently needed for the transport of Bakken oil and other hazardous materials by rail. To protect Flathead waters, wildlife, and communities, we need to advocate for policy, regulatory, and voluntary actions. Many steps can be taken to reduce the risk of an oil spill, such as

  • higher safety standards for oil tank cars
  • slower speed limits for oil trains traveling through sensitive areas
  • limits on the number of oil tank cars per train
  • more snow sheds in Glacier Park to reduce the chance of an avalanche-caused derailment.

Hear the Community

Business owners, community leaders, residents and scientists agree: The threat of an oil train derailment is real and urgent. We need to act now to protect this special place.

Chair, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes

Vernon Finley

It wasn't work to be an environmentalist. You didn't have to consciously say, “Let's save the environment.” It was what you did, it was…just the way of life. There was no other way. And it wasn’t until another way came along that this whole conflict came about. And so the ones that are becoming active players now, of course they’re necessary now in today’s world.

Executive DIrector, Flathead Lakers

Robin Steinkraus

The number of tank cars carrying millions of gallons of oil and other hazardous materials has been increasing. We are playing Russian Roulette with this irreplaceable ecosystem. This special place deserves a special plan to protect it from an oil train disaster.

Executive Director, Whitefish Lake Institute

Mike Koopal

It’s not enough just to go out and have fun and recreate on our natural water bodies. It’s inherent that we all understand how they work and what the threats are, so that we can be good stewards now and good neighbors to our folks downstream and pass on a clean and healthy resource to future generations.

Business Owner, Flathead Lake

Greg Johnston

I think it is our generation’s responsibility to maintain our heritage. Not just for us, but for our kids and future generations.

Chair of the Board, Flathead Lakers

Steve Rosso

We don’t want to put the fossil fuel industry out of business, but we need to protect the environment for the long term, and we need to balance all of these issues to make sure that we can prevent an accident that would damage the environment and hurt so many other businesses, recreationists and property owners.

Business Owner, Flathead Lake

BJ Johnson

Flathead Lake, along with the entire Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park is a huge draw. It’s on a bucket list for some people just to come out once in their life. It hurts me to think that a train could derail and spill its contents into the middle fork of the Flathead River.

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