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Following several recent fiery train crashes, the government warned Thursday that crude oil being transported from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it issued a safety alert to notify the public, emergency responders, shippers and carriers as a result of its preliminary inspections after derailments and resulting fires in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec.
The most serious of these derailments was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a runaway train sped for seven miles into the town and crashed into a nightclub, killing dozens of people last July. The pipeline agency, part of the Department of Transportation, said it is reinforcing the requirement that hazardous materials be properly tested, characterized, classified and where necessary, have gases removed from liquids.
About 700,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude is carried by rail, a fast-growing, flexible alternative to pipelines for transporting the landlocked oil to the Gulf Coast and East and West Coast refineries. The pipeline agency, along with the Federal Railroad Administration, said as part of its investigation of the accidents it has begun a compliance initiative involving unannounced inspections and testing of crude shipments to verify that it has been properly classified.
The most recent incident occurred when 18 of 106 cars on an oil train derailed and several burned, causing a massive plume and explosions near Casselton, N.D.