Montana Oil Train Derailment: Seventh of 2015

An estimated 35,000 gallons of crude spilled from four of 22 toppled tank cars of a 106-car oil train near Culbertson in northeast Montana on July 16. Unlike other oil train derailments, no fiery explosions occurred.
July 21, 2015, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Emergency workers from the Texas-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe hazardous materials team had contained the leak by Friday afternoon, but not before an estimated 35,000 gallons of crude had spilled in the rural environment of northeast Montana," writes Nadia Prupis for Common Dreams. "According to the Center for Biological Diversity, emergency workers in the state were unable to take immediate action on Thursday because cleanup of the spill could not begin until the Texas team arrived."

The train, which was being operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), the second-largest freight railroad network in North America, was bound for Washington state but derailed outside of Culbertson, a town near the North Dakota border. No one was reported injured, but 30 residents were temporarily displaced. The evacuation order was lifted Friday.

Jennifer Scholtes, Politico transportation reporter, writes in Morning Transportation that "DOT confirmed that the oil train that derailed Thursday night in northeast Montana was pulling CPC-1232 tank cars, which are deemed better than DOT-111s [or are they?] but still not safe enough."

"And that's why we have a new tank car standard that we put in place," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. "And it will take some time to have market penetration of those new tank cars.” 

"Thursday's accident is the seventh such derailment this year, several of which led to fiery explosions," writes Prupis. "In fact, Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Sheriff Corey Reum told the Associated Press in Montana that firefighters had prepared to spray foam on the wreckage to prevent a blaze, adding, "We're lucky it didn't ignite.""

No reason was given for why no explosion followed the derailment. However, North Dakota has made safety improvements of their own according to December 2014 post, "North Dakota to Reduce Volatility of Bakken Crude-By-Rail:"

Once the rules are in force early next year, transported North Dakota crude oil will have a similar volatility to that of automobile gasoline, which should decrease the risk and size of any fire that might occur once a rail car is punctured in an accident, according to state regulators.

As a May 4 post indicates, new safety rules classify these oil trains as "high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT)." While the spillage of 35,000 gallons of crude, evacuation of a small community and shut-down of the rail line can not be downplayed, it is significant and fortunate that no explosion occurred and no one was hurt.

What is disturbing, though, is that local emergency responders had to wait until 3:30 a.m. on Friday, nine hours after the derailment, for a BNSF hazardous materials team from Texas to appear on the scene before action could be taken to contain the spill.

Full Story:
Published on Friday, July 17, 2015 in Common Dreams
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