| FARGO, North Dakota
FARGO, North Dakota Jan 3 A prominent North
Dakota Republican has called for a slowdown in the state's oil
production boom following the derailment and explosion of a
train carrying crude oil on Monday.
Robert Harms, chairman of North Dakota's Republican party
and an energy industry consultant, told Reuters on Thursday that
a "moderated approach" was needed amid an energy boom that has
transformed the local economy, but created safety concerns.
His comments are among the strongest yet in a state that has
so far enthusiastically embraced its energy surge.
This week, a 106-car BNSF train carrying crude east from the
Bakken crashed into a derailed westbound BNSF grain train near
the town of Casselton, setting off explosions and a fire that
burned for more than 24 hours. No one was injured.
"I think it's a good wake up call for all of us, both local
and state officials, as well as the people with the oil and gas
industry and the transportation industry," Harms said in his
first interview after the accident.
"Even people within the oil and gas industry that I've
talked to feel that sometimes we're just going too fast and too
hard," said Harms, who has also supported regulation that would
require producers to cut back on flaring natural gas.
Thousands of oil wells dot the North Dakota prairie
landscape, and mile-long trains crisscross the state daily,
taking oil from the giant Bakken shale to refineries on the east
and west coasts. But rapid development in the state's sparsely
populated west has strained local resources from rural roads to
regional housing to county jails.
It is unclear what, if anything, the North Dakota government
could do to stem the drilling boom, or even to curb the risks of
volatile oil-by-rail shipments. But any indication of growing
local alarm could add to pressure for federal action, or for the
energy industry to impose more safeguards.
This week's wreck was the fourth of its kind in North
America in the past year, raising questions about an oil boom
that has outpaced pipeline construction and forced producers to
rely on trains instead.
North Dakota produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in
October. Of that some 700,000 bpd was shipped by rail, most of
it the light, sweet Bakken variety that experts say is
While some Casselton residents appeared unfazed by Monday's
crash that sent flames and smoke high into the sky just one mile
from town, politicians have voiced concern.
Some have called for new safety features for crude train
cars to avoid puncture and explosions. North Dakota governor
Jack Dalrymple met with BNSF chairman Matt Rose on Friday to
discuss Monday's crash and talk about enhanced rail safety,
including the type of cars used.
Others say more oil pipelines are needed to reduce train
"I think it's just one more aspect to drive the need for
additional pipelines to move the oil out of western North
Dakota," said Republican state representative Wesley Belter.
He is in favor of building the controversial Keystone XL
pipeline that would provide a route for Canadian crude south
through the United States. Belter represents District 22, which
Casselton native Senator George Sinner (D), from District
46, was leaving Gordy's Travel Plaza on the southern edge of the
small town when the accident occurred.
"It's pretty scary, especially considering that it was
within a few hundred feet of the community I grew up in," Sinner
said. "I'd like to see some more discussion about the
(Reporting By Alicia Underlee Nelson. Writing by Edward
McAllister. Editing by Andre Grenon.)