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Oil train dangers extend past Bakken

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POSTED June 26, 2014 7:13 p.m.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the Northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.

Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment — not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.

Hart cited recent derailments in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Brunswick and Pennsylvania of oil shipments from Canada. He said those cases exemplify “the risks to communities and for the environment for accidents involving non-Bakken crude oil.”

Hart’s comments were contained in a letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained by The Associated Press. They add to growing pressure on federal regulators to improve oil train safety in the wake of repeated derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration last July.

Citing the highly volatile nature of Bakken oil, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month ordered railroads to notify states of shipments from the region so firefighters and first responders can better prepare for accidents.

But Wyden and Merkley told Foxx on Thursday that the order leaves emergency personnel in the dark on oil shipped from outside the Bakken region.

The Oregon Democrats urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. They also pressed for the 1 million-gallon minimum threshold in Foxx’s order to be lowered to include smaller shipments.

“With the exception of the Lac-Megantic accident, every accident involving crude oil, ethanol and other flammable materials since 2006 has resulted in a hazardous materials release of less than 1,000,000 gallons,” Wyden and Merkley wrote to Foxx in a letter.

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