On Thursday afternoon, six cars from a 103-car train loaded with Bakken oil derailed and two caught fire in northern Illinois, according to the Associated Press.
The derailment occurred in a rural area near the town of Galena, Illinois, and prompted authorities to set an evacuation radius of one mile from the crash site. Only one family had obeyed the evacuation notice. As of Friday morning there was not any suggested cause nor reported injuries.
Though several miles from Galena, the crash occurred near the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant, which has made the area a tourist attraction.
Firefighters could only reach the fire in the heavily wooded area on a bike path, and were allowing it to burn itself out on Thursday evening after an attempt to fight it failed and they had to pull back.
— KCRG (@KCRG) March 6, 2015
The Federal Railroad Administration confirmed that the train was still on fire on Thursday, saying that “once the scene is contained and secured, we will be conducting a thorough investigation to determine the probable cause of the derailment.”
Michael Trevino, VP of external communications at BNSF, said that the company was setting up a claims center and taking actions to prevent the spread of oil into waterways including the nearby Mississippi River. A company statement released late Thursday night stated: “We are grateful for the efforts of the first responders at this incident and sincerely regret the inconvenience this event has caused to the community.”
Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said “I did confirm that the train crew was safely removed from the scene without injury,” and Fire Captain Brett Temperly said crews had to evacuate the scene less than two hours after the derailment, leaving some $10,000 worth of equipment behind.
Last month’s fiery Bakken oil train derailment in West Virginia involved the supposedly safer, tougher CPC 1232 new model rail cars. Earlier that month another bad oil train derailment in Canada involving the newer, upgraded rail cars caused a fire that burned for six days.
BNSF stated that the cars involved in Thursday’s explosion were also the newer CPC 1232 model cars.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board noted that the derailment in February suggests the new requirements the U.S. and Canada agreed upon last year do not go far enough to ensure the reliable, safe transportation of such a volatile fossil fuel.
Bakken crude oil is so named because it comes from the Bakken shale formation centered in North Dakota, ground zero for America’s oil boom. The combination of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling has boosted production in the state to 1.2 million barrels per day. As much as 90 percent of that gets transported by rail.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal looked at the combustible gases in Bakken oil compared to other regions around the globe and found oil from the Bakken shale contained “several times” the level of combustible gases than oil from other regions.
On Thursday, Reuters’ Patrick Rucker reported that the Obama administration had considered implementing national standards on explosive gas on Bakken oil trains but decided to leave the decision up to North Dakota. The vapor pressure of “light ends” — what the oil industry calls the volatile and potentially dangerous byproduct of oil that goes along for the ride on oil trains — will be addressed in new regulations expected out of North Dakota in April. When North Dakota’s proposed regulations became known last year, the oil industry argued that removing volatile gases and liquids from rail cars would not make them safer.
“Requiring stabilization beyond current conditioning practices would be a costly, redundant process that would not yield any additional safety benefits,” Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said.
Environmental advocates used the recent parade of oil rail accidents to call for significant improvement in safety requirements.
“The only thing more mind-boggling than three such accidents in three weeks is the continued lack of action by the Obama administration to protect us from these dangerous oil trains,” Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The government has the authority to take immediate action to address this crisis — which puts homes, waters and wildlife at risk – and yet it has sat back and watched.”
Some see oil rail accidents as evidence that points to the need for more oil pipelines. Yet data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) shows that oil trains may spill more frequently, yet pipelines spill more oil when they do spill. From 2004 to 2012, pipelines spilled three times the oil that oil trains did over the same period.