Climate

Oil Train Derails In Canada, Spills Unknown Amount Of Crude Oil

CREDIT: Shutterstock

A train carrying crude oil derailed in northern Ontario, Canada late Saturday night, spilling oil and causing a fire.

Twenty-nine of the 100 cars on the train went off the track near Timmins, Ontario, and seven of those cars were still on fire as of Sunday afternoon. The derailment prompted Canadian National Railway Co. to close its main rail line, a decision that could end up causing a delay in oil shipments in eastern Canada. That delay would add to the disruption Canada’s rail industry is currently experiencing due to the weekend strike of 3,000 Canadian Pacific Railway workers, who are at odds with their company over wages and benefits.

The CBC reports that an “unknown amount” of oil spilled from the train, which derailed in a remote, wooded region. The derailed train had most recently been inspected on Saturday, the day the track was also inspected. The derailment caused no injuries, and officials are working to clean up the derailment site and determine the cause of the accident.

“There is a fire at the scene,” Canadian National’s Patrick Waldron said. “CN has initiated its emergency response plan and has crews responding to the site. That includes firefighting and environmental crews and equipment.”

The derailment is just one of many that have occured in the U.S. and Canada in recent years, as oil producers increasingly rely on rail to transport crude. According to a ForestEthics report from last year, oil train traffic in North America has surged by 4,000 percent over the last five years — traffic that’s mostly coming from North Dakota’s Bakken region and Alberta’s tar sands. With this increase in traffic, oil train accidents have also increased.

In 2013, an oil train derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying the town’s center. The tragic event reignited calls for improved safety measures in the oil-by-rail industry. The train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic was carrying oil from the Bakken region, which studies have confirmed is more volatile than other types of crude. And the types of cars in the train that derailed are older and more prone to puncture. In September, environmental groups sued the U.S. Department of Transportation over its failure to discontinue the cars.

The State Department’s final Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, which came out early last year, stated that “rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not constructed.” That’s worrisome, especially for people who live close enough to an oil train route that they could be in danger if a train derailed (though as the spill in Mayflower, AR proved in 2013, living near an oil pipeline also carries its risks). But the State Department’s assessment of rail’s ability to pick up the slack if Keystone XL is rejected may not be correct: a Reuters analysis from 2013 reported that oil industry officials were wary of signing on to an oil-by-rail alternative because of its costs. The recent drop in oil prices could make the method of transport even more cost-prohibitive.