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Oil Car Explodes Despite New Federal Safety Rules

The oil train derailment and explosion in North Dakota this week came just days after a new federal rule to boost rail car safety. Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation.
The oil train derailment and explosion in North Dakota this week came just days after a new federal rule to boost rail car safety. Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation.
May 7, 2015

BALTIMORE – The oil train derailment and explosion in North Dakota Wednesday was the 10th such incident in North America in two years, according to the environmental group Sightline Institute.

The safety of the type of rail cars used to ship crude oil was examined at the Maryland Legislature, although a bill to require safety precautions stalled.

Federal rules to make the cars safer went on the books May 1, but Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles says the rules don't lessen the immediate dangers.

"We are telling people to keep crossing your fingers that the next time one of these happens – and there will be a next time and there will be a time after that – that we remain as lucky as we are that no one gets hurt," she states.

The rules set new standards for new rail cars, and require retrofits over a period of time.

Boyles explains that the reason we're seeing so many explosions is that crude oil wasn't commonly shipped by rail five years ago, and the number of shipments has increased with the development of the Bakken oil field and tar sands development.

Earthjustice and other organizations consider the new federal rules weak, saying there should be an immediate ban on the current oil cars. Boyles says the phased-in changes take too long.

"Under the rule that was just passed, the type of oil tank car that exploded and is probably still burning in North Dakota right now will be allowed to stay on the rails for the next 5 to 8 years," she points out.

Besides danger to human lives during explosions, Boyles says there is always an oil spill to contend with after the fire burns, which means environmental damage.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD