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Smoke and Flames: Shale Oil Train Explosion Photos, Video from North Dakota

January 1, 2014

Yesterday we posted news about the massive oil train explosion and fire, with 21 Bakken Shale oil train cars still burning as of Monday night in Casselton, North Dakota.  But you really have to see this 29-second video to begin to comprehend just how dramatic and dangerous these explosions are. Dan Gunderson posted the video on Youtube. These shale oil trains run through densely populated neighborhoods in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and other East Coast states as well as through towns, ranches and farms throughout the West and Midwest.

North Dakota train explosion

Plume of smoke rising from shale oil train as it burns near Casselton, North Dakota on December 30th. Photo: Reuters.

International Business Times included the video, along with photos of a “vast plume of smoke” in their story, “Oil train collision in North Dakota Sets Off Fireball, Forces Evacuation in Casselton“:

Local officials said they heard a series of blasts following the collision, including one at 3:40 p.m. Windows shook at the city auditor’s office…

The train cars were still burning four hours later as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out…

The tracks that the train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and [Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara] Morris said it was “a blessing it didn’t happen within the city.”

The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK).

Huffington Post also included raw footage in their story about the incident, “Train Derailment Causes Fiery Destruction in Casselton, ND.”

Earth First! Journal included a photo and video in their December 30th post, “Oil Train Derails Causing Explosions, Hazmat Incident in North Dakota.” We know now that at least 21 train cars burned, not seven or ten, as initially reported. And we know that residents of Casselton were later not just told to “stay indoors” but actually evacuated. The evacuation remained in effect until about 12 hours ago. Residents in a five-mile radius were  advised to leave to avoid smoke inhalation, as well. So the incident and its aftermath grew beyond initial reports.  But Earth First! did a good job raising the question of what kind of hazmat incident this is, and putting the incident into a fuller political context, so we are posting it in full below:

from Micah Grimes on Twitter

from Micah Grimes on Twitter

from Earth First! Newswire:

A 106-car-long oil train derailed today and was hit by another train in Casselton, North Dakota, causing seven oil cars to explode as of 3:30pm.

Cass County Sgt. Dean Haaland reports that emergency responders are attempting to separate all other oil trains. Plumes of thick, black smoke are visible from 15 miles outside of town.

No injuries have been reported yet, however, City Auditor Sheila Klevgard has warned residents that “there is a Hazmat incident west of town.” Residents are advised to remain in their houses.

“The sky is totally black from smoke,” local resident Eva Fercho said. “I could almost feel the house shake in that (second explosion). It was loud.”

Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth denies knowing the destination or point of origin of the train, but that the direction of the train was eastbound.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains were likely from the Bakken Shale area, which is the highest-producing oil region in the mainland USA.

Bakken oil is notoriously flammable.

Earlier this year, a train running through Canada from the Bakken region derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing half of the city center and killing scores of people.

Another train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Alabama in November, causing the explosion of 11 oil cars and 90-foot-tall flames. [* Other observers estimated the flames in Alabama at 300 feet: see this post and photo — Ed.]

A majority share of BNSF was purchased in 2009 by Warren Buffet, and has since risen from a relatively small corporation to the second largest railroad company in the US—almost entirely due to the increase of oil-by-rail networks programmed after the purchase of the railroad company by Warren Buffet.

Canadian oil-by-rail shipments rose from several hundred in 2009 to 140,000 this year. US oil-by-rail shipments rose more than 400 per cent from 2005 to today.

Oil-by-rail transportation is seen by the industry as an alternative to pipelines, which are meeting widespread popular resistance throughout North America. Opponents of oil-by-rail shipments insist that its rapid increase, matched with the several cases of derailments and explosions this year, prove it is an unstable and unsustainable practice.

Oil-by-rail terminals are proposed for the Pacific Northwest, including Vancouver, Washington.

On November 4, Rising Tide and allies shut down the Port of Vancouver in solidarity with locked out ILWU workers, and in protest against the Port’s approval of a Tesoro-Savage oil terminal that would receive and process oil-by-rail shipments from the Bakken shale and, likely, the Alberta tar sands.

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