'Wake-up call' to improve oil transportation in Minnesota

A new state report says Minnesota's first responders may not be as prepared as they should be for a train derailment or pipeline failure, and it's a problem that will only get worse with more crude coming from North Dakota.

Money in a hurry

It's the sound of money in a hurry. Fifty trains a day barge through Elk River, right past Main Street, and more and more of those tanks are filled with volatile crude oil. Fire Chief John Cunningham says a trail derailment is the nightmare scenario.

"I really worry about everything, not just oil, but also things carried on trail, but normal vehicular traffic that comes through our city," he said.

A new report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says Minnesota first responders "[...] do not have the equipment or personnel to respond to a significant oil transportation incident," and only half the first responders say they've had proper training.

"There are gaps in our response to a major oil spill or fire that put Minnesotans at risk," Rep. Hornstein (DFL) said in a release. "The railroad and pipeline companies need to better address safety."

'This report should be a wake-up call'

"These are firefighters telling you they're not prepared," Cunningham added. "We really need to listen to them about what they need, and this report should be a wake-up call for Minnesota. We're facing an important issue and we're not addressing it."

There have been 3 recent oil rail car explosions: Alabama, North Dakota, and Quebec, which was in a populated area.

The fire chief said he didn't know precisely what's coming through, and said it's a variety of things including Bakken oil, but that's the problem: Most communities don't know, and the rail companies don't have to tell them.

A spokesperson for BNSF, the largest rail in Minnesota, said they've given hazmat training to 1,200 Minnesota first-responders and sent another 130 to specialized training in Colorado. In fact, BNSF, is training some of Cunningham's firefighters later this month, and the city just got a half million in state money to upgrade to rail crossing.

For Rep. Hornstein, it's not enough. He wants more training, and more money for upgrades, and he wants the companies to share the cost.


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