DOT Warns: Crude Oil Transported Through Communities by Rail Highly Volatile
Multiple incidents of explosive accidents have prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a safety alert warning the pubic, emergency responders and shippers about the potential high volatility of the crude oil coming from the Bakken oil shale patch in Montana and North Dakota. According to the agency, the crude, which is shipped by rail across the U.S. and Canada, could be more flammable than traditional oil.
Officials say the oil coming from the Bakken's oil patch is lighter than traditional heavy crudes, making it prone to ignite at lower temperatures. Lighter crudes contain more natural gas, giving it a much lower flash point - the temperature at which vapors given off by the oil can ignite.
Earlier this month, in New Brunswick, Canada, a train carrying the crude oil in one of its cars and propane in three others, derailed in and exploded. The fire that ensued burned for days and residents needed to be evacuated.
Another incident occurred in December, near Casselton, N.D. when a train carrying the crude crashed into another train which had derailed. The crash triggered a massive explosion and witnesses described seeing a “giant fireball” upon impact. Responders arrived on the scene to find 10 of the 106 cars on the oil train fully engulfed in flames. The second train, which was transporting grain, did not catch fire.
No one was injured in the accident, but because of the toxic fumes being released by the fire, the 2400 residents of the town were evacuated to Fargo, about 25 miles away.
In November, a train transporting oil coming from North Dakota derailed and exploded near Aliceville, Ala. There were no injuries but an estimated 749,000 gallons of oil spilled from 26 tanker cars.
In July, a train transporting the oil derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, causing a massive explosion. Forty-seven people were killed and more than 30 buildings in the downtown area were destroyed. About 1.6 million gallons of crude oil being transported was spilled.
No explosions or fires in the latest incident which occurred last week when a train carrying the crude oil derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The area where the derailment occurred is near the University of Pennsylvania. There are also three hospitals and a major highway close by. There were no injuries and no oil was spilled when the more than 100 car train left the tracks.
The Bakken oil boom has created another boom – the number of train cars that transport the product. In 2009, there were just 100,000 tanker cars which delivered the crude oil throughout the country. But that number quadrupled in 2013 to 400,000.
Industry experts say the dangers of crude have long been underappreciated and need to be communicated to the hundreds of counties and cities that have seen a surge in crude oil trains.
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