Skip to content

Oil cars on fire after train collision in North Dakota

The Associated Press reports, “A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s oil patch derailed Monday near the small town of Casselton (about ten miles west of Fargo), setting off a series of fiery explosions. No injuries were initially reported, but officials were warning residents to stay indoors as the situation unfolded. …The derailment appeared to result from the crude oil train striking a grain car, but investigators were still trying to determine exactly what happened.”

NBC adds, “A code red alert was issued asking residents to stay indoors and the Federal Aviation Administration was putting flight restrictions in place over the area due to the smoke. …The train emitted a cloud of toxic smoke but prevailing winds were blowing the smoke away from Casselton.”

A Reuters report notes, “Crews are pushing snow to contain the oil before it reaches a nearby creek.”

North Dakota and fracking

“North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October.”

“North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that oil is being shipped by rail. The state’s top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota’s oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent. That matches a growing national trend and has stoked fears of catastrophic derailments, especially in the wake of last summer’s crash in Canada of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.”

Earlier this month, the Toronto Star reported, “Most of the oil produced in North Dakota is extracted using hydraulic fracturing…” And it warned, “Bakken crude can contain high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic, corrosive chemical that’s extremely flammable. …The oil’s flammability classification is the highest there is, level 4 — the same as methane gas and propane… In the case of a spill, the Bakken oil could ignite, with a spark, at 20C.”

This past March, author Ian Brown wrote in the Globe and Mail, “The oil fracking boom has transformed western North Dakota into an inferno. Thanks to fracking, the population of Minot has grown by a third in three years. Houses – two bedroom boxes – sell for $350,000. For every passenger car on the road, you see 25 tankers: oil trucks caked in brown fracking sand, semis hauling freshly painted drills. Every 20 miles, a new colony of Lego prefabs pops up – the so-called lodges, or man-camps – housing roughnecks. A room runs $600 a week. The roughnecks can make $120,000 a year for 100-hour weeks. Suddenly everything is huge and dangerous and filthy and loud. Flames roar out of gas flaring pipes at the side of the road. And everywhere, pumpjacks – the so-called nodding donkeys – dipping on their counterweights like grazing animals sipping up the crude.”

And as always water is part of this equation. Reuters has reported, “(Fracking) is water-intensive and requires more than 2 million gallons of water per well… Energy companies get most of their water in (North Dakota) by trucking it from depots to oil and natural gas wells. Some wells require more than 650 truckloads to frack. …Fracking water depots, which cost roughly $200,000 to build and can gross more than $700,000 per year, are typically small metal buildings on concrete slabs filled with pumps and small tanks connected to the Missouri River or local aquifers. They can have two to six hookups and fill water trucks with as much as 7,800 gallons of water per visit.”

Further reading
North Dakota’s water market for fracking
Train carrying oil brings death and destruction to Lac-Mégantic