A mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed just a mile before it would have cut through the heart of a small North Dakota town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flame and black smoke skyward. No one was hurt, but officials were evacuating as many as 300 people as a precaution.
The mile-long BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday, and as many as 10 cars caught fire. They were still burning four hours later as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.
Cass County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara Morris said the evacuation of a section of the town Casselton was a precaution in case of a wind shift. A thick smoke plume from the burning cars was largely staying to the southeast of town. Casselton has about 2,400 residents and is about 25 miles west of Fargo.
Authorities hadn’t yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
. . .The derailment happened amid increased concerns about the United States’ increased reliance on rail to carry crude oil. Fears of catastrophic derailments were particularly stoked after last summer’s crash in Canada of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.
The tracks that the train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and Morris said it was “a blessing it didn’t happen within the city.”
North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that oil is being shipped by rail. The state’s top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota’s oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent.. . . but about 25 times safe on a fatality per delivered product basis.
The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year. Despite the increase, the rate of accidents has stayed relatively steady. Railroads say 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipments reach destinations safely.
I blame President Obama for every bit of damage, every injury, however slight. In the time that President Obama has been dithering over the Keystone Pipeline, it could have been built and carrying this oil.