Skip to main content

Oil Train Derails in Montana, Smacks Utility Pole and Spills 35,000 Gallons of Crude

Another Bakken oil train derailed, this one in northeastern Montana, but at least it did not explode, officials said.

About 30 residents of rural northeastern Montana were allowed to return to their homes on Friday July 17 after being evacuated when a train carrying crude oil to Anacortes, Washington derailed, sending 35,000 gallons of its contents into the soil as it hit a utility pole on the way down.

Unlike previous derailments, this train didn’t explode into flames, even though it hit a power pole on the way down.

“We’re real lucky it didn’t go bang,” said Chief Deputy Corey Reum with the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, to the Billings Gazette. "We're lucky it didn't ignite.”

More than 20 cars from the 106-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway train toppled from the tracks, the Associated Press said. It was carrying crude that had been loaded in North Dakota, home of the Bakken oil fields, reported AP. The cars have the capacity to haul 30,000 gallons each.

While the spill had been contained, it once again raised the question of safety in transporting crude oil, especially extra-flammable Bakken crude, by rail. There have been several derailments as the use of this method proliferates, including one in May in North Dakota that caused the evacuation of a small town.

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

The Quinault Indian Nation has been outspoken against such transport, and the Swinomish are suing BNSF to stop the company from continuing to transport oil across reservation lands, in alleged violation of its negotiated agreements with the tribe.

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

Meanwhile the Montana spill, near the small town of Culbertson, was contained with earthen dams, federal and state officials told AP. It now joins the states of Alabama, Illinois, Virginia, Oklahoma and North Dakota, all of which have seen derailments.

While there were no injuries or fire this time, only two of the 22 oil-filled cars that derailed had remained upright, Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Frederick told AP. The spill itself was contained with earthen dams, and no waterways were affected, said AP, citing a “preliminary report” filed with the Montana Public Service Commission by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The accident also closed down a sizable section of U.S. Highway 2, a main artery through the region, through much of Friday, AP said.