Is A Bomb Train Still A Bomb Train If It Doesn't Go Boom?


Last week there was an oil train derailment near Culbertson, Montana, which resulted in leaked oil but no fire or explosion, no doubt to the chagrin of certain media types and activists who delight in such things.

Which isn’t to say that the incident didn’t get sensationalized. Oil train derailments are a very important element of anti-oil activism these days. But reading between the lines of the story, there are some interesting facts worth noting.

For one thing, the the cars carrying the oil were of a new and improved sort and actually did their job pretty well according to first responders:

Twenty-two oil tankers derailed and three of the cars are leaking oil, BNSF Railway spokesman Matt Jones said.

The oil that was spilled is contained and BNSF environmental responders are on scene, Jones said. …

Oil tankers not damaged in the derailment were removed from the site Friday morning.

The rail cars were newer CPC-1232 tank cars, some jacketed and some unjacketed, Jones said.

“They did their job on this one,” Aspenlieder said.

Also, the oil on the train met new conditioning requirements put in place by the State of North Dakota to make the oil less volatile.

“There was no big orange glow, so we’re happy about that,” Culbertson Fire Chief Alan Aspenlieder said. …

The oil did comply with the North Dakota oil conditioning order, intended to make Bakken crude less volatile for shipping, that took effect earlier this year through the Department of Mineral Resources, Symons said.

And it seems the extra effort put in to train first responders on how to handle these incidents is continuing to pay off as well:

BNSF had recently conducted hazmat training with local emergency responders in the area, which has seen an increase in oil-by-rail shipments from the Bakken.

“We’ve been expecting it to happen sooner or later,” Aspenlieder said of the derailment.

Dan Sietsema, disaster and emergency services coordinator for the county, said the emergency response went well.

“I think we have our ducks in a row,” Sietsema said. “We can respond to something like this.”

Overall this seems to paint a picture of competence. We had a problem – oil trains derailing and catching on fire – and both industry and the government have taken steps to address it. We haven’t solved derailments by any stretch of the imagination, but we have taken steps to make the tankers tougher and explosions/fires less likely, and we’ve also prepared first responders so that they can better handle incidents when they do happen.

Meanwhile, those screaming loudest about “bomb trains” see a solution in stopping the production of oil. Or, at least, shipping it by rail. But they aren’t serious people.