Honey, I Blew Up the Town

January 7, 2014

Midwest Energy News:

On December 30, a BNSF Railway train hauling grain near Casselton, North Dakota, slipped off the rails and blocked a neighboring track.

A short time later, a crude oil train going the opposite way struck the derailed cars, with explosive results. Several oil tank cars burst into flames, causing no injuries but spurring many nearby residents to evacuate until New Year’s Eve as a precaution.

The disaster marked the third high-profile oil train explosion in the past six months and has reignited a debate over the relative safety of rail and pipeline transport.

The derailment also brought a quick response from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which warned Thursday that crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale “may be more flammable” than other oil types (E&ENews PM, Jan. 2).

PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration have stepped up inspections of North Dakota crude ever since a train carrying Bakken oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, this past July, killing 47 people and leveling the town center in an oil-fueled inferno (EnergyWire, July 17, 2013).

Edward McConnell, Casselton’s mayor, said the uncomfortably close crash served as a “wake-up call” for the community. He called for tighter regulations on crude-by-rail movements in an interview Friday but also said he hopes new pipelines can take some tank cars off the tracks.

“Environmentalists are complaining that pipelines are dangerous to the environment, but if you’re going to wreck some land, it’s not as bad as blowing up a town,” he said.


Safety rules will probably be tightened on crude oil shipments from North Dakota following a string of railway explosions, threatening to damp an energy boom that has boosted the region’s economy.

U.S. regulators yesterday issued a safety alert after a train carrying oil crashed and caught fire earlier this week in North Dakota, where surging production has helped lead a renaissance in domestic energy and driven the state’s unemployment rate to the nation’s lowest.

The type of oil pumped from the shale formations of North Dakota may be more flammable and therefore more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas, the Transportation Department said in the alert. Regulators are considering imposing tougher rules on railcar construction, among other steps, potentially raising the cost of moving the crude to market.

“A couple years ago, we really weren’t transporting much oil by train,” Brigham McCown, a former administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said today in a phone interview. “The monumental growth in oil transport by rail means there are opportunities to have things not classified right.”

This week’s incident, near the town of Casselton, is the fourth major derailment in six months by trains transporting crude. An explosion of a runaway train carrying North Dakota oil in July killed 47 inQuebec. Restrictions on railcars could worsen a shortage of capacity for moving oil to refineries.


10 Responses to “Honey, I Blew Up the Town”

  1. He called for tighter regulations on crude-by-rail movements in an interview Friday but also said he hopes new pipelines can take some tank cars off the tracks.

    As I said, a plus for Keystone XL.  Nebulous threats to the environment are a hard sell against images of incinerated towns.

    I prefer wires, but I’m a heretic anyway.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Inane comment here, but if daveburtin can make them, so can I.

    Love the “Honey, I….” title of this post. Suggest you use more “Honey, I…” in the future.

    “Honey, I lost more arctic sea ice…” etc.

  3. Makes no difference whether it’s rail or pipeline if the fuel is more volatile? As the youtube video says, somebody is paid to look the other way.

    • Based on the API gravity, the petroleum folks on the mailing list for The Oil Drum believe that the Bakken “crude” is something close to “natural gasoline”.  In other words, far more volatile than heavy crude like the sludge being extracted with steam in California, or even Texas crudes.

      However, gasoline travels by pipeline all time.  The hazards of leaks and such are well-known and appear to be managed much better than those from rail transport.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Yes, let’s run pipelines everywhere so we can have that “better managed” alternative to rail transport in Ewwww-Pot’s backyard, wherever he is (right next to his own personal mini-nuke). And the “volatiles” are SO much easier to manage when they DO spill from pipelines. In fact, they are almost “self-cleaning” in that they produce spectacular explosions and fires and burn off. Almost like a self-cleaning oven?

        • I should feel guilty for picking on someone who’s handicapped, but it ought to have occurred to you that petroleum product pipelines derail and crash into each other at a remarkably low rate.  Indeed, I believe we’re still waiting for the first such incident.

          I also find it amusing that when I shared some expert opinion from real petroleum people, you had to jump in to make sarcastic remarks that added nothing.  Almost as if you just like seeing your own words… IOW, a narcissist.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Ewwwwwwwwwwwww-Pot lives up to the pretentiousness of his name by first talking about how he has “shared some expert opinion”, when he is unqualified to determine how expert that opinion is in the first place. Tapping in to “petroleum folks on a mailing list” is something anyone who knows how to google can do and then cherry pick and parrot.

            It is nothing more than an appeal to authority and attention-seeking by a true narcissist, one who “likes seeing his own words”, especially when he is looking down his nose, being “amused and going “sniff, sniff” in disdain for someone like me, a mere dumboldguy, who has the temerity to challenge his “all knowing wonderfullness” (E-Pot’s middle name should be Omnologos—it fits him).

            As for my sarcastic remarks? I’m sorry to say that sarcasm is perhaps the only response to someone as “handicapped” as E-Pot is by NPD. It won’t “cure” him, but it will make the rest of us feel less frustrated by his affliction.

            SBAN, E-Pot!

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