WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal inspection teams have been conducting spot safety checks of rail shipments of crude oil from the booming Bakken oil region in Great Plains states in response to last month’s rail disaster in Canada, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The official name of the inspections is “Operation Classification,” although Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said she prefers to call them the “Bakken Blitz.” They are being carried out jointly with the Federal Railroad Administration and began last weekend, although they weren’t publicly disclosed until Thursday.
Last month, an unattended train carrying oil from the Bakken region came loose and derailed, sending tank cars hurtling into the center of the lakeside Quebec town of Lac-Megantic near the Maine border. Several cars exploded, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town.
Officials said they were surprised by the disaster because they thought the type of oil being transported was unlikely to ignite.
Safety regulations for the transport of crude oil differ depending upon the type of oil and its flashpoint — the lowest temperature at which it will ignite, Quarterman said. Inspectors want to determine whether the quality of the oil being shipped “is what the shipping papers say it is,” said Quarterman, who spoke to reporters at an emergency rail safety advisory committee meeting.
“For example, they should have a safety and security plan if they are shipping something that is very volatile,” she said. Such a plan might include keeping someone with the train at all times rather than leaving it unattended, she said.
Joseph Szabo, head of the railroad administration, said the Lac-Megantic explosion was “very unusual for crude.”
“Generally speaking, these grades of crude would not be that volatile,” he said.