By July 17, 2015 Read More →

Montana oil train derailment: 35,000 gallons of oil leaked

Montana oil train derailment near North Dakota border

Montana oil train

Montana oil train derailment forced the closure of Highway 2, the region’s main artery.  Twitter photo courtesy The Bismarck Tribune.

BILLINGS, Mont. – Three tank cars leaked an estimated 35,000 gallons of oil after a train hauling crude from North Dakota derailed in rural northeastern Montana, the latest in a series of wrecks raising concerns across the U.S. and Canada, authorities said Friday.

No one was reported injured in the accident Thursday night that temporarily led to the evacuation of some homes and followed recent oil train crashes including a 2013 derailment in Quebec that exploded and killed 47 people.

A hazardous-materials team contained the spill with earthen dams, and oil did not affect any waterways, according to a preliminary report by Michael Turnbull of the U.S. Department of Transportation to Montana’s Public Service Commission. The report was based on information provided by BNSF that was still being confirmed, Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Michael Booth said.

Unlike many prior accidents, no explosions or fire were reported after the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train bound for Washington state derailed about 5 miles east of the small town of Culbertson, near the North Dakota border, officials said.

But about 30 people were ordered to leave their homes within a half-mile radius, Turnbull said. That evacuation order was lifted Friday morning.

Officials offered no immediate explanation of what caused more than 20 cars to topple from the train, which had 106 loaded crude oil tank cars, two buffer cars and four locomotives. The tank cars typically haul about 30,000 gallons of oil apiece.

Two days earlier, a BNSF train carrying a mixed cargo derailed about 20 miles away from Thursday’s accident, damaging about a mile of track. There was no connection between the derailments, railroad spokesman Matt Jones said.

The latest accident knocked over a power line, and firefighters planned to spray foam on the wreckage to prevent a fire, Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Sheriff Corey Reum said.

“We’re lucky it didn’t ignite,” Reum said.

Under a rule enacted in April, oil being shipped from North Dakota must be treated to reduce the chances of an explosion, by removing some of the volatile gases found in crude from the region. It was not immediately known if the shipment involved in Thursday’s accident had gone through that process.

It forced the closure of U.S. Highway 2, the region’s main artery, which was expected to stay shut through much of Friday, Reum said.

Investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration were on site, agency spokesman Michael Booth said, along with police and other responders. BNSF’s response crews arrived late Thursday.

Roosevelt County is situated along one of the main corridors for Bakken oil shipments bound for refineries on the West Coast. About 12 BNSF oil trains a week pass through the county, according to information submitted by the railroad to state emergency officials.

U.S. transportation officials recently extended an order for railroads to notify states about shipments of hazardous crude-oil shipments and put in place new rules that require sturdier construction of tank cars hauling hazardous liquids. Critics have said the rules do not do enough to keep cars on the tracks and prevent derailments.

In addition to the 2013 Quebec accident, in which much of the town of Lac-Megantic was incinerated, trains hauling crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana have been involved in fiery derailments in Alabama, Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

By Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Bob Seavey in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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