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Bakken-Crude-Hauling Oil Train Explodes in North Dakota, Town Evacuated

Oil train derailment casts light once again on the transport of highly volatile crude by rail.

At least 10 cars of yet another oil train are aflame, this time in North Dakota, after a derailment that caused the evacuation of a small town.

Of the 109 cars on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway train, 107 were carrying Bakken crude, the Associated Press reported. Two were buffer cars loaded with sand that rode between the tankers and the engine. It was one of at least two dozen such accidents and fires in the U.S. and Canada since 2006, the AP said, citing federal records it had reviewed. This was the fifth derailment in 2015, AP said. The practice of transporting crude from the Bakken oil fields, whose bitumen is more volatile than normal crude, by train has been growing drastically, as have the number of accidents. The two to three dozen residents of the town of Heimdal, about 115 miles northeast of Bismarck, was evacuated.

Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp has been outspoken about the danger of oil trains and taken a stand against this type of transport, and the tribe wasted no time highlighting the dangers anew.

“This was just the latest in a series of oil train derailments that have resulted in crashes, followed by explosions, mountains of thick, black, toxic smoke and inevitable spills of poisonous oil that at some point make their always way into water systems, streams, rivers or marine waters,” Sharp said in a statement on May 6. “Let there be no doubt. These trains are dangerous, and we are seeing more and more of them on our tracks all the time.”

RELATED: Quinault Speak Out Against Oil Trains as Rail Cars Smolder in West Virginia

The Swinomish, too, have come out against oil trains, filing suit recently against BNSF for overstepping the regulations about transporting crude by rail across the tribe's reservation.

RELATED: Swinomish Tribe Files Lawsuit to Stop Bakken Crude Oil Trains

The AP said it was not clear whether the crude on this train had been treated to make it less volatile.

RELATED: Feds Call Bakken Crude Volatile as Quinault Warn Against Oil Rail Transport

The wreck comes about a week after transportation authorities in the U.S. and Canada issued new regulations requiring that new tank cars transporting volatile liquids such as Bakken crude and ethanol must be tougher and reinforced so as to avoid rupturing, the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star reported on May 1. But buried in the new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to the Journal Star, was a clause exempting companies from publicly disclosing the contents of the cars.

“The department will end its requirement, put in place a year ago, that required railroads to share information about large volumes of Bakken crude oil with state emergency response officials, who make them available to local safety officials where the trains pass,” the Journal Star said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called the new rules “industry friendly” and said that phasing out the older, less-reinforced cars rather than replacing them immediately would ensure that danger continues to rocket through hapless communities.

The Quinault also tied the trains to the bigger picture, pointing out the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels as contributors to environmental degradation.

“Tribes are very concerned about them for many reasons. Not only do they jeopardize our citizens, because they are explosive and too heavy for the tracks they travel on, but also the oil that inevitably spills from them poisons our treaty-protected waters and aquatic resources,” Sharp pointed out. “Also, fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. We all need to make some important decisions about the future. Do we accept the major expansion of these poisonous fuels and the impacts they have on our environment, or do we opt to be good stewards of the land and work to phase them out and replace them with clean energy sources and wiser choices?”