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A burned-out Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) oil train sits after a derailment in Vader, Washington. A BNSF oil train derailed in Montana Thursday night, spilling 35,000 gallons of crude. (Photo: Aaron Hockley/flickr/cc)

Montana Oil Train Derailment Renews Call for Ban on Crude-By-Rail

"The wreck is the latest in a string of derailments this year exposing the still-unchecked dangers that crude-oil trains pose to people and the environment, and how unprepared communities are to deal with the threat," says Center for Biological Diversity

Nadia Prupis

Communities in northern Montana on Friday continued to grapple with the aftermath of an oil train derailment, which saw 21 of 106 train cars split off the track Thursday night, down a power line, force a highway closure, and leak enough oil to require a nearby community to evacuate.

Emergency workers from the Texas-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe hazardous materials team had contained the leak by Friday afternoon, but not before an estimated 35,000 gallons of crude had spilled in the rural environment of northeast Montana.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, emergency workers in the state were unable to take immediate action on Thursday because cleanup of the spill could not begin until the Texas team arrived.

"The wreck is the latest in a string of derailments this year exposing the still-unchecked dangers that crude-oil trains pose to people and the environment, and how unprepared communities are to deal with the threat," CBD wrote in a statement.

CBD attorney Jared Margolis added, "This derailment is only the latest reminder that the dangers of transporting crude by rail are magnified by the lack of equipment and training available to local emergency workers."

"Communities should not be forced to wait for industry hazmat teams to travel across the country while leaking oil contaminates our water and soil," he said.

The train, which was being operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), the second-largest freight railroad network in North America, was bound for Washington state but derailed outside of Culbertson, a town near the North Dakota border. No one was reported injured, but 30 residents were temporarily displaced. The evacuation order was lifted Friday.

Thursday's accident is the seventh such derailment this year, several of which led to fiery explosions. In fact, Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Sheriff Corey Reum told the Associated Press in Montana that firefighters had prepared to spray foam on the wreckage to prevent a blaze, adding, "We're lucky it didn't ignite."

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new oil-by-rail safety rules that would aim to prevent tank car disasters, but environmental groups criticized the mandates as being too lenient and industry-friendly, leaving communities "at risk of catastrophe".

The recent accidents have "exposed the ineffectiveness" of those rules, CBD said on Friday.

"A moratorium on oil trains is needed to prevent these disasters and ensure that emergency responders can be trained and equipped to take appropriate action after derailments," Margolis continued. "It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these dangerous trains to roll through our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes."

The cause of the derailment is still being investigated.

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