A 90-car crude oil train derailed and exploded in Alabama early Friday morning, spilling oil and causing flames that shot 300 feet into the sky.
Eleven of the 20 cars that derailed are still on fire and are being left to burn down, a process which the train’s company, Genesee & Wyoming, said could take up to 24 hours. The derailment caused no injuries and the oil doesn’t appear to be a threat to nearby waterways, according to the company. The train was carrying oil from Amory, Mississippi, to a refinery in Florida. So far, it’s unclear how much oil has been spilled.
Shipping oil by train has been thrown into the spotlight recently, after a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people this July. Oil shipments by rail are surging as oil production increases — in 2012, U.S. railroads carried 234,000 car loads of crude oil, a substantial increase from the 5,912 car loads in 2007. The State Department is looking at rail as a potential alternative or supplement to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast.
Despite the lack of details, Reuters calls the Alabama incident one of the “most dramatic of its kind in the United States” since oil shipment by train began increasing a few years ago. The accident lends further evidence of the dangers of shipping oil by rail, which is also an expensive and carbon-intensive way of transporting fuel.
“[The accident] will provide very clear evidence of the potential risks for environmental groups and others opposed to the growth of crude by rail, and will likely increase pressure to tighten regulations,” Elena McGovern, Global Energy and Natural Resources analyst at Eurasia Group told Reuters.