North Dakota Town Evacuated Following Fiery Oil Train Derailment

Common Dreams | May 6, 2015 | Column by Deirdre Fulton

Latest disaster comes just after release of new oil-by-rail safety standards that critics say aren't nearly strong enough

Emergency crews report 10 cars on fire. (Photo: Jennifer Willis)

The entire population of  Heimdal, North Dakota has been evacuated Wednesday morning after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

A BNSF Railway oil train derailed around 7:30 am, setting at least 10 oil tanker cars on fire. The Bismarck Tribune spoke with emergency responders who "said the the sky was black with smoke near the derailment site."

About 40 people from Heimdal and the surrounding farmlands were evacuated; no injuries or fatalities have been reported.

Valley News Live reports that BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth "says the tank cars involved in the incident are the unjacketed CPC-1232 models."

These newer tank cars are supposedly safer than older DOT-111 models, but environmentalists note that four oil train accidents in the first three months of 2015 all involved the newer CPC-1232 cars.

Just last week, groups warned that the U.S. Department of Transportation's new oil-by-train safety standards "leave communities at risk of catastrophe."

On Wednesday morning, the people of Heimdal saw such a catastrophe up close.

The lesson was not lost on Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who said in a statement: "Again another derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude. Again another community evacuated and its people counting their blessings this didn’t happen half a mile down the track in the middle of town."

She pointed out that "under the Department of Transportation’s new rules, the type of oil tank cars that are burning in Heimdal will stay on the rails for five to eight years. DOT’s new industry-pleasing rule is too weak and too slow. We need to get these exploding death trains off the tracks now."

"We will continue to see these fiery derailments even with the new regulations in place, because they fail to take sufficient actions to prevent oil trains wrecks," echoed Jared Margolis, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "As this accident demonstrates, people, wildlife, rivers and lakes will continue to pay the price for the government’s failure to take steps to adequately protect us from these dangerous oil trains."

CBD and Earthjustice are among many organizations calling for an immediate moratorium on so-called "bomb trains."

As Margolis added Wednesday, "It's dangerous and irresponsible to allow these trains—which have shown a propensity for going off the rails—to come through our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes."

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.