Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shale Oil Train Derailment Rattles N.D. Town

Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks
Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota town Monday night after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward.
The Cass County sheriff's office said it was "strongly recommending" that people in the town of Casselton and anyone living 5 miles to the south and east evacuate. A shelter has been set up in Fargo, which is about 25 miles away. Casselton has about 2,400 residents.
The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service was forecasting a shift in the weather that could increase the risk of potential health hazards.
"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing.
As many as 10 cars out of more than 100 caught fire when the BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt.
The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.
Authorities hadn't yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
Trains carrying dangerous chemicals and occasionally derailing is not a new occurrence, but the controversy  surrounding fracking and the construction of the Keystone pipeline push recent derailments involving crude oil shipments into the headlines.  I've often considered how scary it could be when living beside a major railroad line and watching carloads of propane, sulfuric acid, molten sulfur and sodium hydroxide flying by.  Walking the tracks getting  from one field to another definitely doesn't bolster my confidence.  While the railroad has spent a lot of money on infrastructure over the last few years, the siding which runs the length of the farm I live on is not one of these expenditures.  The ties are terrible, and the rail actually looks in pretty good condition considering that it came out of the mill in 1943 (unlike the main line which was milled in 1974).  I am glad that trains using the siding travel at extremely low speeds.  Considering that oil exploration in the hottest shale plays has dramatically outpaced investment in infrastructure (I actually think that the underinvestment in pipelines may be due to oil players' not believing their own hype when it comes to the potential longevity of these shale plays), I would anticipate quite a few more of these kinds of accidents.  Hopefully none are as deadly as the Lac Megantic derailment.

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