Oil train explodes, spills into wetlands

A 90-car train derailed and exploded in rural Alabama early Friday, spilling its crude oil cargo into the surrounding wetlands and igniting a fire so intense that officials said it will take 24 hours to burn out. No one was injured.

The train was crossing a timber trestle above a wetland near Aliceville when 20 railcars and two of three locomotives derailed. Earlier reports said fewer cars had derailed.

On Friday morning, about 10 train cars were burning, according to a statement from train owner Genesee &Wyoming.

Emergency responders decided to let the cars burn out. Though the bridge is also burning, the fire is contained, officials said.

Scott Hughes, spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said the oil has been spilled into the wetlands area. “Typically wetlands are a sanctuary for a variety of different types of aquatic species, so once we’re able to get in and assess environmental impacts, we’ll certainly look at any impacts to aquatic organisms and other types of wildlife,” Hughes said.

There are extensive wetlands near Aliceville, according to the state’s Forestry Commission website.

Hughes said that it’s difficult to determine how much oil has been spilled, because responders can’t get close to the fire. Hughes said his agency checked the drinking water wells in the area, and said there will be no effect on the water.

“The area’s pretty rural, there’s not a whole lot around,” said Alabama Emergency Management spokesperson Yasamie August.

One family was evacuated, but has already been returned home, she said

The Environmental Protection Agency has one person on scene who is overseeing the clean-up and monitoring of air quality to assess the impact of the crude oil spill, said Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson James Pinkney.

The use of rail to move oil amid rapidly expanding U.S. production is coming under growing regulatory scrutiny after the horrific explosion of an oil train in Canada’s Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed at least 42 residents in July. A train with 72 tank cars hauling crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields rolled downhill into the city and ignited an inferno that destroyed half of downtown.

Don Hartley, a regional coordinator for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the train in Alabama likely originated in North Dakota.

Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil than they were five years ago. And though railroads have improved their safety in recent years, moving oil on tank cars is only about half as safe as in pipelines.

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