Deadly Fracked Bakken Oil: Focus of Lac-Mégantic probe turns to North Dakota oil fields by Jacquie McNIsh and Justin Giovannetti, August 1, 2013, The Globe and Mail
A federal investigation into the fatal Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fiery crude oil explosion has shifted from Quebec to North Dakota, where the oil was drilled, purchased and loaded onto rail cars. Ed Belkaloul, the Quebec head of the Transportation Safety Board, said a team of investigators was recently dispatched to North Dakota after experts confirmed that the oil reacted “in a way that was abnormal” after a runaway train carrying 72 cars of crude crashed into the small town’s centre in early July. Within minutes of impact, the trains erupted into a huge fireball of burning crude that killed 47 residents and levelled more than 40 buildings. The train, operated by the small regional carrier Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, was carrying light oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota where crude is drilled up from rock through a process known as fracking. Environmental groups and Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. have complained to U.S. federal regulators about the volatile and potentially unsafe chemical makeup of Bakken crude. “We are aware of those experiences and have sent investigators to North Dakota, we are following the oil from the wellhead to here,” said Donald Ross, the safety board’s head investigator in Lac-Mégantic. Oil has been taken from each of the oil cars for analysis at an Ottawa-based labratory, and it could be months before the results of these tests are publicized.
Bakken oil is typically lighter than Alberta crude, rendering it more flammable when exposed to heat. This potential volatility is raising questions about whether railways and regulators are taking sufficient precautions when transporting the oil. Shortly after the derailment, Ottawa unveiled a series of tighter safety rules that call for more rail staff, supervision and safety precautions for trains carrying hazardous materials. Edward Burkhardt, chairman of MM&A, said one of the many questions raised by the Lac-Mégantic tragedy is whether the hazards posed by shipping Bakken crude by rail should be reassessed. “It looks like it was much more dangerous than we were predisposed to believe,” he said. Mr. Burkhardt has accepted responsiblity for MM&A’s failure to set sufficient emergency brakes on the train parked on a hill overlooking Lac-Mégantic. The oil on the ill-fated MM&A train was purchased by Miami-based oil logistics company World Fuel Services Corp., which then leased rail cars and pumped the oil into tanker cars. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. carried the oil from North Dakota, across Canada to Montreal, where MM&A locomotives picked up the train for delivery to a New Brunswick refinery owned by Irving Oil. “Nobody knew what they were carrying. I can assure you CP didn’t know any more than we did,” Mr. Burkhardt said. A spokesman for CP declined to comment. MORE