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Will Columbia River Gorge Oil Train Derailment Be a 'Death Knell' for Bakken Crude-by-Rail?

After a long night fighting a fire that erupted when a 96-car oil train carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota derailed on June 3 in Mosier, Oregon, the fire chief called for an end to shipping the volatile oil by rail.
June 6, 2016, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"An oil train derailment Friday in the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier sent up a massive plume of black smoke and stoked long-standing fears about the risks of hauling crude oil through one of the Pacific Northwest's most renowned landscape," writes Tony Hernandez for The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Eleven cars from a 96-car Union Pacific train jumped the tracks west of the small city about 12:20 p.m., next to Rock Creek that feeds the Columbia River. Several rail cars caught on fire and at least one released oil, but it's not known how much, railroad officials said.

The derailment and fire caused by the train, carrying crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a refinery in Tacoma, was within 20 feet of the city's sewage treatment plant. Residents were asked not to use any water facilities, including toilets, that drained to the plant.

We've been saying for a long time that it's not fair for trains with toxic loads to come into our towns near our Gorge," said Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns. "We don't have the capacity to fight these fires."

Stronger words were subsequently declared by the town's fire chief, Jim Appleton, reports Amelia Templeton for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” he said, (a)fter a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire...

Federal regulators say oil from the Bakken region is more flammable and more dangerous, than other types of crude. It’s been involved in a string of rail disasters, including a tragedy that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec [on July 6, 2013.]

The flammability results from the higher vapor pressure of Bakken crude, as a March 2015 post explained. However, a new North Dakota regulation and better rail cars were supposed to mitigate the problem. 

Whether this derailment, which caused the evacuation of 260 students and residents within the area, shut down Interstate 84, and spilled oil into the Columbia River, results in stronger regulations and restrictions is anyone's guess, but it certainly serves as a painful reminder that the hazards of shipping Bakken crude-by-rail have not dissipated.

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Published on Friday, June 3, 2016 in The Oregonian
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