Acknowledging Influx Of Oil-By-Rail Shipments, Minnesota Braces For Disaster

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CREDIT: AP Photo/Alabama Emergency Management Agency

W tanker train carrying crude oil burns after derailing in western Alabama outside Aliceville, Ala., early Friday.

W tanker train carrying crude oil burns after derailing in western Alabama outside Aliceville, Ala., early Friday.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alabama Emergency Management Agency

At least one state has learned a lesson from the crude oil train derailment in North Dakota that caused massive explosions and forced 65 percent of the nearby town’s residents out of their homes.

Minnesota officials on Thursday said that they are bracing for similar derailments in their state as it becomes more and more common to ship crude oil over the railways.

“With the uptick of oil shipments out of North Dakota and knowing some of it’s coming this way, we’ve been out there trying to make sure that our emergency management groups know they can call us,” Minnesota’s Branch Director of Homeland Security and Operations Kevin Reed, said to local station KARE. He explained that local emergency response teams are getting additional training to be able to better handle derailments if or when they occur.

“We want to be able to respond to any oil, flammable or non-flammable, and make sure that local fire department understands, by looking at the containers, by looking at manifests, to give us the information on how to support them,” Reed said.

Minnesota is home to 4,393 miles of freight rail lines, including 1,584 miles of rail owned by BNSF — the same company responsible for the rail line on which last week’s North Dakota derailment occurred. As a thoroughfare between North Dakota and the east, as well as between Canada and points South, the state is an artery for oil. In May, it was home to one of the first major spills of the recent oil rail shipment boom, when in May of 2013 a derailment of a Canadian Pacific Railway train spilled some 30,000 gallons of oil.

Rail shipments of oil have nearly doubled in the last year. But localities aren’t always equipped to handle the kind of major accident that shook Casselton, ND, last week. Particularly in rural areas, fire departments can be made up of volunteers not trained in how to manage a derailment fire. One rural town, for example, says it would use up the special foam it has to fight oil fires in mere minutes.

The government also warned this week that some of the oil being produced in North Dakota, from the Bakken shale, may actually be extra flammable.

Advocates hope that the spate of accidents and the new government warning will lead to new safety regulations for the freight industry — particularly for rail construction and the types of trains used. Lawmakers in Congress are also considering fixes. On Thursday, Rep. Peter De Fazio (D-OR) derided the idea of waiting on regulations.

The “rulemaking process will take months, if not years, and I don’t think Congress can wait,” he said.