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Train Transporting North Dakota Oil Derails, Setting Cars on Fire

Feb 18, 2015

Several train cars were ablaze after a CSX Corp. train carrying North Dakota crude oil derailed in West Virginia on Monday, Reuters reports. A house caught on fire and was destroyed, two towns were evacuated as a result of the derailment, and a state of emergency was issued. The train was moving 109 cars from North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia. The coastal town contains an oil depot run by midstream firm Plains All American Pipeline, CSX said. The company said that one person was being treated for possible fume inhalation.

Fayette County 911 Coordinator James Bennett said the train derailed about 33 miles southeast of Charleston at about 1:20 p.m., according to Reuters.

Robert Jelacic, night shift manager of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said one or two of the train cars fell into the Kanawha River while "a couple are burning." Jelacic says no injuries or deaths have been reported so far, according to Reuters.

Nine or 10 of the cars exploded roughly every half hour, West Virginia State Police First Sergeant Greg Duckworth said to Reuters. Several other derailments that have occurred over the past year and a half had similar activity, where the fire from one tank heats up gasses in the adjacent car and sets it ablaze. "It’s a real mess down here," said Duckworth, who stated that all but 14 cars have been moved from danger.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety told Reuters that the incident caused a house to catch on fire, resulting in the evacuation of a 1-mile-wide area around the accident. Managing the derailment was made more difficult by the heavy snow and freezing temperatures, Jelacic said. Following the incident, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties. The derailment occurred only two days after another train derailed in Ontario, Canada. Reuters reports that 29 of 100 cars on a Canadian Railways train were involved and seven caught on fire.

These incidents will likely prompt US and Canadian regulators to refocus their efforts towards improving the safety of oil shipments. Safety concerns have arisen over the faulty design of older tank cars as well as the fact that very light oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale is very flammable.

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