Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Minnesota radio station series examines impact of crude oil derailments on local areas and residents

WCCO News Radio 830, a CBS affiliate in Minnesota, is running a five-part series called "Tracking Danger" that examines crude oil train derailments and the impacts those derailments could have on local areas. (CBS photo)

"Rice is a sleepy town of about 1,200 people, but every 15 minutes or so, trains come flying through the heart of it at 50 mph. These trains are carrying a variety of freight, but much of it is oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota," reports Jennifer Lewerenz. "City Fire Chief Scott Janski is in charge of a 24-man volunteer fire crew and says a derailment would overwhelm their department and worries about their ability to respond."

While Rice can rely on help from 13 other area fire departments, the closest one is 17 miles away, Lewerenz reports. That doesn't comfort local residents, one of whom told Lewerenz, "It’s actually kind of scary because I live in a residential neighborhood where there’s lots of kids, and if they’re outside playing and there’s a train that derails, I mean, they’re not really protected."

Fridley fire chief John Berg said being located near the Mississippi River is helpful and state training has been beneficial, but there is only so much a fire department can do in the event of a train derailment, reports Laura Oakes. Berg told her, “Are we prepared to respond to 30,000 gallons, 90,000 gallons, 120,000 gallons of fuel burning and put the fire out immediately? No. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point. Are we prepared to respond to something like that, evacuate people, protect exposures and know what resources to call in? Yes.”

Oakes reports, "It’s a different story in Minnesota’s tiny rural communities with much smaller water supplies and maybe a handful of volunteer firefighters." The big challenge there, said Kevin Reed, Operations Director with the state’s Emergency Management Division, "is getting enough water to the scene to activate the chemical foam needed to fight an oil fire."

Another story looks at the impact on the Twin Cities.

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