North Dakota oil train collision is fourth incident in six months

  • Katie Colaneri

A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia.

Nat Hamilton/WHYY News

A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia.


Federal transportation safety officials are on the scene in North Dakota where a BNSF train carrying crude oil from the Bakken Shale collided with another train and exploded Monday afternoon, the latest in a rash of incidents in the crude-by-rail boom.
Around 2:10 p.m. yesterday afternoon, an eastbound crude oil unit train collided with a westbound grain train that had derailed on an adjacent track. The collision caused the unit train to derail and set off a series of explosions. As of Monday evening, 21 cars were on fire, according to a statement from BNSF. Residents in nearby Casselton, North Dakota have been evacuated.
Bloomberg reports it is the fourth serious accident involving crude oil trains in North America in the last six months.
The final destination of the mile-long unit train was Missouri, according BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler.
Rail shipments ramped up in 2013 to keep pace with oil production in the Bakken which is soon expected to hit one million barrels per day. Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the single largest consumer of Bakken crude, accepting two trainloads or 160,000 barrels of oil each day as of this fall. The refinery cut the ribbon on a new state-of-the-art rail unloading facility in South Philadelphia in October.

But StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported that the number of incidents involving crude oil trains has stoked concerns about the safety of this new rail traffic and pose challenges for local emergency management crews.
The growing safety concerns have not gone unnoticed by the industry. Following the deadly derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Québec in July, Philadelphia Energy Solutions CEO Phil Rinaldi wanted to know more.
“The next day, I dispatched three men there to investigate,” Rinaldi recently told the Philadelphia Daily News.
Oil spill expert Nancy Kinner told StateImpact Pennsylvania this fall that most of these incidents are the result of “human error.” You can read our Q&A with Kinner here. 
*This story was updated on 1/2/2014 to reflect that the final destination of the oil train was Missouri. As of 12/31/2013, it was not immediately clear where the train was headed when it collided with a derailed grain train on Monday. 

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