No injuries after collision ignites North Dakota oil train fire

A BNSF Rail Co. train carrying crude oil caught fire Dec. 30 after it struck a derailed train carrying agricultural products west of Fargo, ND. Residents of the nearby town of Casselton returned to their homes Jan. 1 after a voluntary evacuation order was lifted. No injuries were reported.

“We got lucky. We’re counting our blessings here,” Sgt. Tara Morris, of the Cass County Sherriff’s Department, told OGJ by phone on Jan. 2.

She said BNSF crews were continuing their cleanup efforts, and the National Transportation Safety Board was continuing its investigation of the accident as life around the town of 2,300 began to return to normal.

State and local authorities referred inquiries to NTSB. BNSF, which sent emergency response personnel and specially trained hazmat teams to the area Dec. 30 to work with local emergency responders and local officials, continued assisting people affected by the accident.

Both main tracks had reopened by 3:15 a.m. CST on Jan. 2, BNSF said in a final report to customers. Shipment delays of 24-36 hr still were possible, it indicated.

The incident almost certainly will intensify scrutiny of rail’s safety as a transportation alternative to pipelines. Trains have emerged as a near-term solution to helping get otherwise stranded lighter crude from North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken tight oil fields to refineries which can process them.

“We will continue to monitor reports from the proper authorities regarding the train derailment in Casselton,” said Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources. “At this time, we expect companies to use alternative routes for transportation by rail and do not anticipate the incident to have any short-term impacts on production.”

He said the department receives data regarding the physical properties of Bakken crude from every Bakken and Three Forks field spaced by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

The North Dakota DMR’s Oil & Gas Division will assist federal and state efforts in every possible capacity by supplying Bakken data, according to Helms. “Our division’s technical expertise is limited to the regulatory life cycle of oil and gas wells, and associated facilities,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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