I’ve never understood why North Dakota Democrats agree to go on MSNBC. It can’t be good messaging.
For one thing, how many people in North Dakota are actually watching? MSNBC gets less than 400,000 viewers per night nationally these days. Of that total, how many are in North Dakota? A couple of thousand?
For another, it is a constant struggle for the Democrats in this state to distance themselves from the far-left politics of their national counterparts. The only Democrat who has been elected on the statewide ballot since Early Pomeroy last did it in 2008 is Heidi Heitkamp, and she only won in 2012 because she ran as far away from President Barack Obama as she could. She moved so far to the right that the NDGOP at the time was offering her a tongue-in-cheek membership in their party.
So rushing to the ideological fever swamp that is MSNBC to make political hay over an oil train derailment seems like a bad idea.
But that’s what Rep. Ron Guggisberg (D-Fargo) did last night (after a rant from host Rachel Maddow about how pipelines totally aren’t the solution to rails overrun by oil shipments). In addition to being a lawmaker Guggisberg is also a captain with the Fargo Fire Department. His message for Maddow? North Dakota’s first responders aren’t prepared for oil train derailments, and the state’s communities didn’t ask for the railroads to come through them.
That last is just plain historical ignorance. Most North Dakota towns were specifically built around the railroads. In fact, some cities in the state were built by entrepreneurs hoping to lure the railroads to them. Suggesting that North Dakota towns “didn’t ask” for the railroads is ridiculous. Most of them begged for it, and for most of them the railroads are the only reason they exist.
As for Guggisberg’s comments about how well first responders in the state are prepared for oil train derailments, he seems to be at odds with his own fire chief:
Similarly, 15 Fargo firefighters have received training in hazardous materials fires, and the department has response plans in place that have been tested through tabletop exercises, said Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen.
Yet to be implemented new tanker car standards and new conditioning standards to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil before shipment are improving safety, he said.
Gasoline, which moves in great quantities, is only slightly less volatile than the new standards imposed by the state of North Dakota, which took effect in April, Dirksen said.
“It has made it safer,” he said. “It’s just part of the risk that’s there.”
Also, he said, BNSF has staged a foam spray truck at a Fargo Fire Department station—equipment that was dispatched Wednesday morning to respond to the fire near Heimdal.
“I think we have taken a lot of good steps,” Dirksen said, adding that trains through Fargo-Moorhead now travel at slower speeds, between 25 and 35 mph.
“We are well-prepared,” Dirksen said. Still, he added, referring to a fire of Casselton proportions, a fire of “any magnitude like that is going to quickly overwhelm our resources.”
In other words, per Chief Dirksen, under new conditioning requirements Bakken oil is about as volatile as gasoline which is also commonly shipped on rails, and first responders are “well-prepared” to deal with derailments of volatile loads.
So what explains the difference between Dirksen’s comments and those made by Guggisberg?
Well, Dirksen is a fire chief who has no agenda other than public safety. Guggisberg is a politician who, despite being a fire captain, is out to score political points.