By David Sheppard and Jeffrey Jones
NEW YORK/CALGARY March 27 A mile-long train
hauling oil from Canada derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of
crude in western Minnesota on Wednesday, as debate rages over
the environmental risks of transporting tar sands across the
The leak - the first major spill of the modern North
American crude-by-rail transit boom - came when 14 cars on a
94-car Canadian Pacific train left the tracks about 150 miles
north west of Minneapolis near the town of Parkers Prairie, the
Otter Tail Sheriff's Department said.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, the country's
second-largest railroad, said the company was investigating the
incident. CP Spokesman Ed Greenberg said only one 26,000-gallon
tank car had ruptured, adding it was a mixed freight train
carrying crude and other materials.
The company did not comment as to what kind of crude the
train was carrying.
But Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman Dan Olson
said up to three tank cars were ruptured and an estimated 20,000
to 30,000 gallons - or 475 to 715 barrels - leaked out.
Cold weather had also made the crude thicker, hindering the
ability to recover the oil, Olson said, adding the initial
cleanup was expected to continue for a day or two.
"We are focusing on drawing up the loose (oil) ... and once
that has been taken up, they will then pump up the remaining oil
in the tanks," Olson said. "Because of the winter conditions,
the ground is frozen and there is not any damage to surface
water or ground water."
A photo on the website of a local paper, the Duluth News
Tribune, showed two large tank cars lying on either side of the
railroad tracks in snow-covered fields.
The derailment is the first major spill of the massive
expansion of crude shipment by rail, which has increased rapidly
in the last three years as booming North American oil production
has outgrown existing pipeline capacity.
Canada is the top exporter of crude to the United States,
due to rising output of crude from its vast tar sands deposits.
Growing volumes of that oil have crossed the border via
train as production bumps up against pipeline constraints, with
around 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) on average shipped to the
United States in 2012, according to data from Canada's National
Environmentalists have complained about the impact of
developing the reserves, and have sought to blocked TransCanada
Corp's controversial Keystone XL project, which would
carry oil produced from the oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast
Some experts have argued oil-by-rail carries a higher risk
of accidents and spills.
"It is good business for the rails and bad safety for the
public," said Jim Hall, a transportation consultant and former
chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
"Railroads travel through population centers. The safest
form of transport for this type of product is a pipeline. This
accident could - and ought to - raise the issue for discussion,"
Others note that spills from rail cars are rare, and that
delivering crude by rail has opened up opportunities in recent
years for producers to develop huge volumes of oil production in
areas of the United States that are not connected to markets by
"It's not very good publicity, but railroads are incredibly
safe, they don't spill often," said Tony Hatch, independent
transportation analyst with ABH Consulting in New York who has
done work for major railroads. "It should not change the
opportunity railroads have to make us more energy independent."
Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline were quick to jump on
the derailment as a reason to build the line.
"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by
pipeline rather than by rail or truck," said Don Canton,
spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one
of the chief political proponents of the line. "This is why we
need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."
Shipments of petroleum on U.S. railroads rose more than 46
percent last year to 540,000 carloads, the Association of
American Railroads said in January.
A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said two
representatives of the U.S. rail regulator are investigating the
The Otter Tail Sheriff's Department said the train was
approximately 5,700 feet in length, or 1.7 kilometers (1.05
"Once our crews were able to get closer to the rail cars
that were involved in the incident, it was determined that only
one had been formally compromised," Canadian Pacific's Greenberg
said. "We have options to reroute traffic, so we've been able to
continue to move trains while we do the thorough job of cleaning
up the area."
He also said he did not know if the crude oil was from
Canada's oil sands or the originator of the train.
Shares in Canadian Pacific ended down less than half a
percent at C$129.06 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.