Around 400,000 gallons of oil was lost last month when a train derailed and caught fire in North Dakota Dec. 30, according to a report released Monday.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) preliminary report released Monday, the eastbound train loaded with crude oil derailed after crashing into a grain car that had fallen onto the track after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed. The NTSB is studying what role a broken axle might have played in the derailment of the grain train.
The derailments of the two BNSF Railway trains sparked massive explosions about a mile from Casselton, a town of about 2,400 residents in southeast North Dakota. No one was hurt, but 1,400 people voluntarily evacuated.
The train derailment highlighted concerns about shipping crude by rail. It also led to a safety alert from the U.S. Department of Transportation warning about the potential high volatility of crude from the Bakken oil patch in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
How much of the 400,000 gallons of oil that was lost in the derailment burned off and how much spilled into the ground is unclear.
“We do know where the grossly contaminated soil is,” said Dave Glatt, chief of North Dakota Department of Health’s environmental health section.
He said they recovered about 25,000 gallons of oil from wrecked oil tankers. Each tank car can carry about 650 barrels, or more than 27,000 gallons of oil.
The NTSB said 21 of the 106 cars on the oil train derailed, along with the two leading locomotives. Twenty of the cars were carrying oil and 18 were punctured. Damage estimates are coming in at $6.1 million, the report said.
“With the cleanup ongoing, that is not a final cost,” said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said.
Glatt said workers removed about 1,300 tons of oily dirt so far from the crash site and sent to an industrial landfill in north-central North Dakota.
McBeth said at least 6,000 more tons of dirt will end up removed during the cleanup.
North Dakota regulators are on site monitoring the cleanup done by a BNSF contractor, Glatt said.
The NTSB’s preliminary report said the grain train was traveling at about 28 miles per hour when 13 of its 112 cars left the tracks. The train carrying oil was travelling at about 42 miles per hour when it collided with one of the grain cars. Investigators said the maximum speed on the tracks near Casselton is 60 mph.