A Burlington northern train carrying crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota exploded and burned after a collision with a derailed train carrying grain. Investigations into Monday's accident near Fargo continue, but the explosion has already caught the eye of Wisconsin Railroads Commissioner Jeff Plale.
“It looked like something out of a Hollywood movie,” says Plale.
But Plale says it's no fiction that oil train traffic from the Dakotas, to and through Wisconsin, has increased by quite a bit. “The Canadian Pacific refers to that as their rolling pipeline – also, Burlington Northern through the western part of the state,” says Plale. “And it’s going through refineries down south and out east.”
Plale says he’s been talking with the train companies about safety, especially in light of an uptick in freight rail incidents in Wisconsin last year and other oil train accidents in the United States and Canada. He urges Wisconsin citizens to contact him about any poor track conditions.
Burlington Northern says it's spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the upper Midwest to upgrade its track. Canadian Pacific says it has a rigorous safety system in place for everything it moves, including crude oil. Still, Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago says governments need to play catch up with regulating oil trains.
“There are a lot of questions about the design of the cars being used to transport oil right now, and there are real questions about whether all of the routes that are being used should be used,” says Mogerman.
Mogerman also says some federal officials are worried that the North Dakota crude oil may be more flammable than other types of oil being carried by rail.
Mogerman says the explosion in North Dakota is not an argument for building more oil pipelines.