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Americas

Train collision in North Dakota ignites oil tankers

© Photo: Screengrab from YouTube

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-31

A cargo train carrying oil in the US state of North Dakota collided with another train on Monday, setting off a series of explosions that left at least 10 cars ablaze, the latest in a string of incidents to raise concerns over oil-by-rail traffic.

Local residents heard several powerful explosions just a mile outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed, and an eastbound train hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 pm CST (8 pm GMT), local officials said. There were no reports of any injuries.

Half of the oil cars have been separated from the train, but another 56 cars remain in danger, a spokesperson for the North Dakota emergency services said. The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Bershire Hathaway Inc.

"Approximately 10 cars are fully engulfed resulting in heavy smoke in the area," the Cass County sheriff said in a statement, adding that local fire and hazardous material teams are battling the blaze.

City officials said that one of the blasts was heard more than an hour after the collision. Residents within 10 miles were asked to remain indoors in order to avoid contact with smoke.

Shale boom

North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October. Shipments of oil have surged lately, most of it the Bakken variety that experts say is particularly flammable.

Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels a day, or two thirds of the state's oil production, to market in October, a 67 percent jump from a year earlier, according to the state Pipeline Authority.

Monday's incident threatens to stoke concerns about the safety of carrying crude oil by rail.

This summer, a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the centre of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. The incident fuelled a drive for tougher standards for such shipments, including potentially costly retrofits to improve the safety of tank cars that regulators have cited as prone to puncture.

In early November, two dozen cars on another 90-car oil train derailed in rural Alabama, erupting into flames that took several days to fully extinguish.

The Association of American Railroads recently proposed costly fixes to older tank cars that do not meet its latest standards but continue to carry hazardous fuels such as oil.

The fixes include protective steel jackets, thermal protection and pressure relief valves, which could cost billions of dollars. Oil shippers, likely to be saddled with the costs of retrofits, oppose some of the changes proposed by the association.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-31

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