Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails, Explodes In Alabama

A train carrying North Dakota crude oil derailed in a rural area of western Alabama on Friday, leaving 11 cars burning. Twenty of the train’s 90 cars derailed and several were still on fire by Friday afternoon.

Local officials explained that those cars, which threw flames 300 feet into the sky, will be left to burn out, a process that will probably take up to 24 hours, reports Reuters.

No injuries were reported in the derailment, but the incident could bolster calls for tougher regulation in the boom of moving oil by rail. The crude involved in Friday’s incident comes from North Dakota’s booming Bakken shale patch, according to a local official.

It wasn’t clear what caused Friday’s accident, or how old the tanker cars were. The train was being driven by two engineers, both of whom escaped unharmed. The accident also appeared to pose no environmental risk, though it brought back memories of the fatal train derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic this summer.

The Chicago Tribune notes that that incident killed 47 people and started the discussion on tougher standards for oil rail shipments. Train operator Montreal Maine & Atlantic blamed the accident on a train engineer, who the company says didn’t brake sufficiently on an incline.

Proposed measures since the Lac-Megantic disaster include better testing of potentially explosive ultra-light shale crude and improved standards for rail tank cars. Tank cars made before 2011 were cited by regulators as dangerously prone to puncture. Even though Friday’s derailment didn’t cause injuries, it still could be the most dramatic of its kind in the US since oil rail shipments began to increase three years ago.

Friday’s accident happened in a wetlands area that feeds into the Tombigbee River. Booms were placed in the wetlands area to keep the spilled oil from spreading. Don Hartley, regional coordinator for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, explained that three cars had a ” ‘bleve’ — where pressure builds up and blows a hole.” According to Hartley, that’s what caused the fire.

However, a full investigation is needed once the fire goes out to see what exactly happened in the Alabama train derailment.

[Image via ShutterStock]