Canadian Shipper


North Dakota train derailment to trigger debate about safe oil transport

CASSELTON, N.D.–A December 30 train derailment and fire in North Dakota that forced the evacuation of a nearby town will trigger debate about the safety of transporting oil as the U.S. reviews TransCanada Corp.’s proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

More than 2,000 North Dakota residents were urged to flee possibly toxic fumes from the fire that engulfed BNSF Railway Co. cars carrying oil after they collided with another train about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Fargo. BNSF is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, reported Bloomberg News.

While climate change has been the focus of the fight over Keystone, a subset in the debate has been the relative safety of pipelines versus trains as the U.S. State Department weighs whether the project is in the U.S. national interest, the report said. The agency has jurisdiction because Keystone crosses the border. The US$5.4-billion project would link Alberta’s oil sands and refineries along the Gulf Coast.

The accident in North Dakota is the fourth major North American derailment in six months by trains transporting crude. Record volumes of oil are moving by rail with pipeline capacity failing to keep up.

Critics of Keystone have pointed to pipeline spills in Alabama and North Dakota to show that method of transporting oil carries its own hazards.

The most recent incident occurred when a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed west of Casselton, North Dakota, just after 2 p.m. local time on December 30. An eastbound train carrying oil hit the derailed train, causing the fire, she said.

Initial reports were the rail oil-carrying cars were DOT-111 models, he said. The NTSB has urged the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue tougher standards for such cars to make them more resistant to puncture during accidents.