By Alicia Nelson
FARGO, N.D. Dec 30 A BNSF train carrying crude
oil in 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 that have raised
alarms over growing oil-by-rail traffic.
Local residents heard five powerful explosions just a mile
outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound train
carrying soybeans derailed, and an eastbound 104-car train
hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 p.m. CST (2000 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, said Cecily Fong, the public
information officer with the North Dakota Department of
Emergency Services. 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.
The incident threatens to stoke concerns about the safety of
carrying increasing volumes of crude oil by rail, a trend that
emerged from the unexpected burst of shale oil production out of
North Dakota's Bakken fields. Over two-thirds of the state's oil
production is currently shipped by rail.
"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. The sheriff said it was not yet clear how the
collision had occurred.
City officials said they had heard a series of explosions
following the collision, including one as recently as 3:40 p.m.
CST, more than an hour after the incident. Residents within 10
miles (16 km) were asked to remain indoors to avoid contact with
The derailment occurred about a mile west of Casselton, a
small town just west of Fargo, between an ethanol plant and the
Casselton Reservoir, Fong said.
North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that
produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October. It is
also a major grain producer and long accustomed to a high volume
of rail traffic.
But shipments of oil have surged lately, most of it the
light, sweet Bakken variety that experts say is particularly
Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels a day of North Dakota
oil to market in October, a 67 percent jump from a year earlier,
according to the state Pipeline Authority.
This summer, a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude
derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of
Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. The incident fueled 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