Oil train derailment in W. Virginia highlights faults in railway safety

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Emergency personnel examine the wreckage of a train derailment near Vandergrift, Pennsylvania February 13, 2014. (Reuters / Jason Cohn)

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Emergency personnel examine the wreckage of a train derailment near Vandergrift, Pennsylvania February 13, 2014. (Reuters / Jason Cohn)

A train carrying millions of pounds of crude oil derailed Monday in West Virginia, burning through the night, marking the latest major rail accident involving hazardous crude. Since July 2013, 11 major oil-train derailments have occurred in North America.

The derailment
in Fayette County led to the evacuation of the towns of Adena
Village and Boomer Bottom, according to reports. The CSX train
consisted of 109 tanker cars and two locomotives, with as many as
25 cars jumping off the tracks amid a snowstorm,
to the Charleston Gazette. At least 14 cars
ignited, said Jennifer Sayre, the Kanawha County manager.

ordered as train with crude oil derails in W. Virginia

One car ended up in a tributary at its confluence with the
Kanawha River, while another car rammed into a house, bursting
into flames, according to Lawrence Messina, communications
director for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and
Public Safety. One person was treated for an inhalation-related
injury, CSX reported.

The train was carrying oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota
to a refinery in Yorktown, Virginia, Chris Stadelman, spokesman
for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, told the Gazette. Kelley Gillenwater,
a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Environmental
Protection, said the train had “crude oil and possibly other

Gov. Tomblin declared a State of Emergency for Kanawha and
Fayette counties on Monday evening.

“Declaring a State of Emergency ensures that residents of
both Kanawha and Fayette counties have the access they need to
resources necessary to handle all stages of the emergency,”

Tomblin said in a news release. “State officials are on site
and will continue to work with local and federal officials, as
well as CSX representatives, throughout the incident.”

After the accident, CSX tweeted that it was “working with first responders
on the scene to ensure the safety of the community.”

In a later statement, the company said it would team up with
relief organizations “to address residents’ needs, taking
into account winter storm conditions.”

About 800 homes in Fayette County were without power Monday
evening, and water was turned off in some communities given oil
had leaked into water supply, according to the state Department
of Health and Human Resources.

A water treatment plant in Montgomery was shut down, affecting as
many as 6,000 people, according to West Virginia American Water
spokeswoman Laura Jordan.

Initial reports said oil and other contaminants had reached the
Kanawha River, the source of drinking water for many state
residents. Jordan later said emergency responders believed the
oil was contained in the river’s tributary, Armstrong Creek.

“If there is clear confirmation from responders that crude
oil and other potential contaminants resulting from the accident
did not reach the Kanawha River, the West Virginia Bureau for
Public Health has given us permission to restart the Montgomery
West Virginia American Water said in a statement.

year ago
, multiple spills consisting of thousands of gallons
of coal-cleaning chemicals leaked into West Virginia’s Elk River,
another tributary of the Kanawha River, leaving hundreds of
thousands of people without running water for weeks.

Train safety

The spill underscores the risks that come with the current oil
and gas boom in North America. Within the last two years, there
have been at least 11 major derailments in the US and Canada that
involved trains carrying immense amounts of oil, according to a
December 2014 report by the
US Congressional Research Service.

From 2006 to April 2014, there were 16 high-profile accidents
involving “high-hazard” trains carrying crude or
ethanol, according to the US National Transportation Safety
Board. In all, 281 tank cars have derailed, spilling nearly 5
million gallons of crude or ethanol, all resulting in 48
fatalities, Reuters

to the National Transportation Safety Board,
DOT-111 tank cars that carry crude and ethanol are not adequately
equipped to carry flammable materials, and there is no
requirement for the cars to have thermal protection against fire

Efforts to address shipment safety are wrapped up in a fight over
whether crude should be considered highly flammable or not, in
addition to the questions over the future of DOT-111 cars.

Liability issues have also hampered safety. Currently,
common-carrier railroads must accept any cars that are of an
approved design – such as the DOT-111 – all while they must
assume the risk. Shippers, on the other hand, are free of
liability burdens.

An ethanol train derailment in northeastern Iowa last week again
highlighted the need for increased safety measures, legislators

“Derailments like these make it clear the federal government
needs tougher standards to prevent these accidents near populated
Minnesota Senate Transportation Chairman Scott
Dibble said,
to the Red Wing Republican Eagle. “We must
immediately begin to phase out and ban the substandard and
dangerous DOT-111 train cars.”

States near the energy boom are concerned
as more and more
oil and other materials coming from North
Dakota and Canada. The Minnesota Public Safety Department
recently released a report that said the state’s first responders
don’t feel like they have adequate training to deal with
derailments that spill hazardous materials.

“Train derailments are almost becoming a part of everyday
life, and it is unacceptable,”
Minnesota state Rep. Frank
Hornstein said, according to the Red Wing Republican Eagle.
“Many of these trains travel through our state, and
Minnesotans should not have to worry about the possibility of
them derailing and possibly exploding. We are lucky this didn’t
happen in an area like Moorhead, New Hope, Red Wing or any
community with a rail line.”

In addition to train derailments that have felled toxic
contaminants, there has been an uptick so far this year in other
energy-development disasters, as RT has reported.

In North
, three millions of gallons of saltwater brine, a
byproduct of hydraulic
, spilled in January from a ruptured pipeline near
the Missouri River. A line in West Virginia transporting ethane
exploded, and 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the
Yellowstone River
from a ruptured pipeline in Montana. A
natural gas pipeline exploded in Mississippi, and a second North
Dakota incident set loose 20,000 gallons of brine.

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