Heimdahl, N.D., is lucky it’s not hamburger right now.
Last week’s accident in rural North Dakota was the fifth major train derailment in North America this year that involved Bakken crude oil. That’s right on schedule for the predicted 10 fiery derailments per year we can expect from oil trains.
In case you’re wondering what these look like, check out Sightline Institute’s photo gallery of 10 derailments in the last two years.
Fortunately this latest explosion didn’t kill anyone or pollute any rivers, but it did mean the evacuation of Heimdahl, a small burg north of Bismarck.
Coming on the heels of the release of new oil train rules, it has elevated concerns that new safety regulations in North Dakota and nationwide are not nearly stringent enough.
Just a week ago, the Department of Transportation adopted new tank car standards that call for thicker shells and other design features to make them tougher in the event of a derailment.
But the rules only apply to “high-hazard flammable trains,” those with at last 20 tanker cars carrying flammable liquids in a block or 35 dispersed. The federal government is giving shippers and rail companies 5 to 10 years to phase out the unsafe tanker cars. And they’ve allowed routing information of oil trains to be kept secret.
The DOT decided not to try to reduce the volatility of the liquid-leaving that important work to the toothless regulators in North Dakota. On April Fools’ Day, the new North Dakota rules went into effect requiring shippers to filter out some of the volatile gases so vapor pressure doesn’t exceed 13.7 pounds per square inch.
The problem is, trains blow up under less pressure.
Responding to concerns of her constituents, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act, which includes more stringent requirements for tanker cars, lower psi for volatile gases and more disclosure. She also criticized the DOT’s recent actions as “a status quo rule.”
Cantwell’s got the right idea-and deserves the support of her fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, because exploding oil trains don’t care whose side you’re on.