(Updates with details on destination of the oil, local town mayor)
By Edward McAllister
Nov 8 (Reuters) - A 90-car train carrying North Dakota crude derailed and exploded in a rural area of western Alabama early on Friday, leaving 11 cars burning and potentially bolstering the push for tougher regulation of a boom in moving oil by rail.
Twenty of the train's cars derailed and a number were still on fire on Friday afternoon, local officials said. Those cars, which threw flames 300 feet into the night sky, are being left to burn out, which could take up to 24 hours, according to the train owner, Genesee & Wyoming. No injuries were reported.
A local official said the crude oil had originated in North Dakota, home of the booming Bakken shale patch. If so, it may have been carrying the same type of light crude oil that was on a Canadian train that derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic this summer, killing 47 people.
That incident, which the operator Montreal Maine & Atlantic blamed on a train engineer for not braking sufficiently on an incline, fueled a drive for tougher standards for oil rail shipments. Proposed measures included better testing of potentially explosive ultra-light shale crude and improved rail tank car standards. Tank cars made before 2011 have been cited by regulators as dangerously prone to puncture.
It was not clear what caused Friday's accident in Pickens County, Alabama, nor how old the tank cars were. The train was being driven by two engineers, both unharmed, officials said.
Though it appeared to pose no environmental risk, the accident still appeared to be the most dramatic of its kind in the United States since trafficking of crude by rail began to increase with the growth of shale oil production three years ago.
"It will provide very clear evidence of the potential risks for environmental groups and others opposed to the growth of crude by rail, and will likely increase pressure to tighten regulations," said Elena McGovern, Global Energy and Natural Resources analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington.
Traders said they feared that tougher regulations could drive up costs for shipping U.S. crude by rail, reducing its competitiveness. Such speculation weakened U.S. crude oil futures relative to London's benchmark Brent, which already trades at a premium to the price in New York.
Assuming the tank cars were full, the train, which passes near schools and crosses rivers in the area, held around 65,000 barrels of crude oil, according to Reuters calculations.
For other stories about oil by rail see:
BOUND FOR FLORIDA
The train was carrying crude from Amory, Mississippi, to a terminal in Walnut Hill, Florida, that is owned by Genesis Energy, the company's chief financial officer Bob Deere said. It was to be pumped into a regional pipeline and delivered to a 80,000-barrel-per-day Shell Chemicals plant near Mobile, Alabama, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Deere said Genesis was still able to receive rail shipments, and deliveries were being rerouted around the affected area.
The accident happened in a wetlands area that eventually feeds into the Tombigbee River, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Booms were placed in the wetlands to contain the spilled oil.
Don Hartley, regional coordinator for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the tank cars originated in North Dakota. Three cars had a "'bleve' - where pressure builds up and blows a hole." That started the fire, he said.
Alabama Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Yasamie August said that one family was evacuated due to the incident but had already been able to return home.
"We don't have a cause yet, that will be determined with the investigation," said a Genesee & Wyoming spokesman.
The company said it had notified the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Railroad Administration and National Crisis Response Center as is standard procedure.
FOCUS ON TANK CARS
Rapid proliferation of oil-by-train shipments started more than three years ago to get oil to markets as pipeline infrastructure lagged booming production in remote places such as North Dakota, as well as Canada's oil sands.
The East and West coasts in particular turned to rail to draw cheaper U.S. and Canadian crude. With no major oil pipelines in operation, or even planned, rail allowed them to tap into the burgeoning shale plays in North Dakota and Texas.
In the third quarter, crude-by-rail shipments rose 44 percent from the previous year to 93,312 carloads, equivalent to about 740,000 barrels per day (bpd) or almost one tenth of U.S. production. That was down 14 percent from the second quarter due to narrower oil spreads that made costlier rail shipments less economic.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has issued safety guidelines on the widely used, cylindrical tank cars known as DOT-111s, including a recommendation that all tank cars used to carry ethanol and crude oil be reinforced to make them more resistant to punctures if trains derail.
The new guidelines, put forward in March 2012 but which have not yet been adopted by the Department of Transportation agency that oversees the sector, stem from a deadly ethanol train derailment and explosion in Illinois in 2009.
DOT-111 railcars ordered after October 2011 have been manufactured to the new code, but the industry has resisted spending an estimated $1 billion to retrofit nearly 300,000 existing tank cars.
In Demopolis, Alabama, some 40 miles south of the site of the accident, where the rail line runs 300 meters away from the U.S. Jones Elementary School, Mayor Michael Grayson said there hadn't been an accident in the area in a century of train traffic.
But since last summer, when the oil trains first began humming past, officials discussed what might happen if a bridge just outside of town collapsed, dumping crude into the river.
"Sadly, with this thing, the only thing you can do is try to be prepared," he said by phone. (Reporting by Edward McAllister, Robert Gibbons, Anna Louie Sussman, Jeanine Prezioso and Nicolas Medina Mora in New York and David Sheppard in London; editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Jonathan Leff and Alden Bentley)
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Niger Delta ExxonMobil Spill, Nigeria - May 2010
In Nigeria's Akwa Ibom State, an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured on May 1 and spilled over a million gallons of oil, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell" target="_hplink">reported the <em>Guardian</em></a>. The leak continued for seven days before it was stopped. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/omoyele-sowore/the-oil-spill-no-ones-tal_b_649220.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger Omoyele Sowore explained</a> in July 2010 that an oil spill from ExxonMobil operations was nothing new to the country. He wrote that an "environmental catastrophe [had] been going on since December 2009." He described the toll on Nigeria: "There's oil on the surface of the ocean, wildlife coated in crude, fishermen losing their businesses." In 2011, the Nigerian government said there had been <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/05/world/la-fg-nigeria-oil-20110805">more than 7,000 oil spills</a> in the country between 1970 and 2000 that could take up to 30 years and $1 billion to clean up.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline Spill - May 2010
In May 2010, several thousand barrels of oil spilled from the Trans-Alaska pipeline "during a scheduled pipeline shutdown at a pump station near Fort Greely," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/alaska-oil-spill-trans-al_n_589974.html" target="_hplink">explained AP</a>. No injuries were reported and officials said the spill was likely "limited to the gravel on top of the containment area's line."
Red Butte Creek Spill, Utah - June 2010
In June 2010, a Chevron pipeline ruptured and spilled oil into a creek near Salt Lake City, Utah. It was first estimated that over 17,000 to 21,000 gallons spilled into the creek, which leads into the Great Salt Lake, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/12/utah-oil-spill-500-gallon_n_610232.html#s99698" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Around 150 birds were "identified for rehabilitation." The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/14/utah-oil-spill-officials-_n_611014.html" target="_hplink">oil did not reach the Great Salt Lake</a>, however. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/14/chevron-cited-for-oil-spi_n_646340.html" target="_hplink">Chevron was later cited for the spill</a>, which released an estimated 33,000 gallons in total. In March 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120324/us-oil-spill-utah/" target="_hplink">a group of 66 residents of a Salt Lake City neighborhood sued Chevron</a> for damage caused by the Red Butte Creek spill and a smaller spill in December 2011.
Kalamazoo River Spill, Michigan - July 2010
In late July 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in southwestern Michigan sprung a leak and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/27/michigan-oil-spill-among_n_661196.html" target="_hplink">spilled over 800,000 gallons of oil into a creek</a> which flows into the Kalamazoo River. By August, a regional EPA administrator said that significant progress had been made at the site, but "the agency cautioned that it will take months to complete the cleanup," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/02/michigan-oil-spill-epa-of_n_667556.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. By the end of September, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/27/michigan-oil-pipeline-res_n_741233.html" target="_hplink">the pipeline -- which travels from Ontario to Indiana -- was back in operation</a>. The EPA later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20111116/us-michigan-river-oil-spill/" target="_hplink">reported that about 1.1 million gallons of oil were recovered</a>, but pipeline operator Enbridge said that it would stick with previous estimates that only about 843,000 gallons were spilled.
Xingag Harbor Spill, Dailan, China - July 2010
In July 2010, China experienced what was reported as the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/21/china-oil-spill-grows-off_n_653852.html#s120708" target="_hplink">country's largest reported oil spill</a>" after a pipeline rupture near the northeastern port city of Dailan. Several days after the spill, cleanup efforts were underway over a 165 square mile (430 square kilometer) area of the Yellow Sea. The Chinese government reported that about 1,500 tons or 461,790 gallons of oil had spilled, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/30/china-oil-spill-far-bigge_n_665038.html#s120708" target="_hplink">experts contended that the spill could have been "dozens of times larger,"</a> reported AP.
Peace River Spill, Alberta, Canada - April 2011
In late April 2011, a pipeline in northwestern Alberta began leaking, and created the worst spill in the province in 36 years, <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/alberta/Rainbow+pipeline+leak+largest+years/4720888/story.html" target="_hplink">reported the <em>Calgary Herald</em></a>. About 1,176,000 gallons of oil were reportedly spilled from the Rainbow pipeline, which is operated by Plains Midstream Canada. The <em>Globe and Mail</em> revealed that the pipeline operators "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/oil-on-rainbow-line-halted-8-hours-after-problem-detected/article2013335/" target="_hplink">detected a potential problem nearly eight hours before halting the flow of crude</a>." A nearby school in a First Nation community was closed after residents reported "nausea, burning eyes and other symptoms," and several animals were found dead. In late July, Plains Midstream <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/07/28/alberta-pipeline-owner-as_n_912796.html" target="_hplink">requested to re-open the pipeline</a> and begin to ship oil to Edmonton again.
Bohai Bay Spill, China - June 2011
In June 2011, an oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/01/china-offshore-oil-spills-bohai-bay_n_888473.html" target="_hplink">spill occurred about 25 miles off the coast of China's Shandong province</a> in Bohai Bay. A second spill followed in July. In late August, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/26/new-seeps-in-china-spill_n_937809.html" target="_hplink">it was reported</a> that ConocoPhillips had discovered more oil seeps in Bohai Bay, although only "1 to 2 liters (a quarter to a half-gallon) of oil and drilling mud were being released each day." The company reported that the 2011 spills released 29,400 gallons of oil and 2,500 barrels of drilling mud into the bay and that most of it was recovered. In September, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/05/china-oil-spill-conocophillips_n_949745.html" target="_hplink">China's State Oceanic Administration claimed that oil was still seeping</a> underwater. In early 2012, Texas-based ConocoPhillips <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120124/as-china-oil-spill/" target="_hplink">reached a settlement deal with the Chinese government</a> for $160 million.
Yellowstone River Spill, Montana - July 2011
In July 2011, a pipeline beneath Montana's Yellowstone River ruptured and sent an oil plume 25 miles downstream, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/02/yellowstone-oil-spill-pro_n_889363.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Despite reassurances from ExxonMobil that the pipeline was safe, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/yellowstone-river-oil-spill-exxon-mobil_n_891246.html" target="_hplink">the July spill released what was originally estimated to be 42,000 gallons of oil</a>. With other 1,000 workers assisting the cleanup, ExxonMobil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/yellowstone-river-cleanup-costs_n_1077106.html" target="_hplink">estimated that it would cost $135 million to clean the river</a>. In January 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/exxon-yellowstone-oil-spill_n_1216830.html" target="_hplink">it was reported</a> that ExxonMobil had increased its estimate of the spill size by 21,000 gallons. AP later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/yellowstone-river-spill-response-plan_n_1408328.html" target="_hplink">reported the estimated spill size as 63,000 gallons</a>. <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> A previous version of this slide stated the estimated spill size as 63,000 barrels instead of gallons.</em>
North Sea Spill, United Kingdom - Aug. 2011
In August 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/15/north-sea-spill-uk-oil-spill_n_927078.html" target="_hplink">an oil rig off the eastern coast of Scotland began leaking</a> oil into the North Sea. Royal Dutch Shell, which operates the Gannet Alpha oil rig, initially reported that 54,600 gallons of oil were spilled. A second leak soon occurred, turning the spill into the worst in the North Sea in a decade, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/north-sea-oil-spill-shell_n_927941.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Several days later, Shell announced that it had "closed a valve from which oil was spilling into the North Sea," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/shell-says-it-has-closed-_n_931379.html" target="_hplink">according to AP</a>. The spill released about 1,300 barrels of oil, which spread out over a 2.5 square mile (6.7 square kilometer) area.
Campos Basin Spill, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Nov. 2011
In mid-November 2011, Brazilian authorities began investigating an offshore spill near Rio de Janeiro, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/chevron-oil-spill-brazil_n_1100062.html" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>. Chevron initially reported that between 400 and 650 barrels of oil had spilled into the Atlantic, while a nonprofit environmental group using satellite imagery estimated that the spill rate was at least 3,738 barrels per day. Chevron soon claimed full responsibility for the spill. The brazilian division's COO said, Chevron "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/20/brazil-oil-spill-chevron-_n_1104070.html" target="_hplink">takes full responsibility for this incident</a>," and that "any oil on the surface of the ocean is unacceptable to Chevron," reported AP. In December, Brazilian prosecutors announced that they were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/14/brazil-oil-spill-chevron-payment_n_1149554.html"target="_hplink">seeking $10.6 billion in damages</a> from Chevron for the spill that leaked nearly 126,000 gallons of oil. In March 2012, a Brazilian federal judge <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/18/brazil-oil-spill-chevron_n_1355923.html" target="_hplink">allowed prosecutors to file criminal charges against Chevron and Transocean</a> and 17 executives from both companies were barred from leaving Brazil.
Rena Spill, New Zealand - Oct. 2011
In October 2011, a Liberian-flagged cargo ship ran aground on a reef in Northern New Zealand and began leaking oil. With oil washing up on shore, a government minister deemed it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/new-zealand-oil-spill_n_1004643.html" target="_hplink">the country's largest maritime environmental disaster</a> a week later. Although over 2,000 sea birds were killed by the spill that spilled about 400 tons of fuel oil, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/new-zealand-oil-spill-penguins_n_1107289.html" target="_hplink">343 little blue penguins were rescued and cleaned of oil</a>. <em>[<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/new-zealand-oil-spill-penguins-released_n_1151788.html" target="_hplink">Watch video of the penguins' release into the wild here.</a>]</em> In January, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/new-zealand-oil-spill-ship_n_1196568.html" target="_hplink">half of the stricken Rena began sinking</a> into the sea after breaking apart and spilling over 100 cargo containers.
Nigeria Oil Spill - Dec. 2011
The spill, which took place near the coast of Nigeria, was reported as "likely the worst to hit those waters in a decade," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/shell-oil-spill-nigeria_n_1164891.html" target="_hplink">according to AP</a>. After two days, the spill had affected 115 miles (185 kilometers) of Nigerian coastline. Several days after the December 20 spill, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/26/shell-nigeria-oil-spill_n_1170198.html" target="_hplink">Shell reported that the leak -- which occurred about 75 miles offshore -- had been contained before it reached the Nigerian coast</a>. The spill, which covered 350 square miles of ocean at its peak, was reported as having released less than "40,000 barrels -- or 1.68 million gallons" of oil.
Red Deer River Spill, Alberta, Canada - June 2012
In June 2012, 126,000 gallons of sour crude oil leaked from a submerged pipeline into the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/08/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1581008.html">Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada</a> before being swept downstream to the Gleniffer Lake and Reservoir, a main source of drinking water for several communities near the spill. A $75 million <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/22/red-deer-river-oil-spill-lawsuit_n_1620267.html">class-action lawsuit was filed</a> against the owners of the pipelines, and in October 2012, the Canadian government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/07/red-deer-river-fishing_n_1752902.html">banned fishing in the river </a>in order to study the long-term environmental impacts of the spill. This was the second major spill in the province and for the company that owns the line, <a href="http://www.plainsmidstream.com/">Plains Midstream Canada</a>, in two years. In 2011, 1.1 million gallons of oil leaked into the Peace River from a damaged pipeline in a remote corner of the province.
Arthur Kill Oil Spill - October 2012
In October 2012, 336,000 gallons of diesel fuel <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/arthur-kill-oil-spill-new-jersey_n_2054267.html">spilled into the Arthur Kill waterway</a> as a result of Superstorm Sandy when two storage tank were damaged by 13-foot waves. The spill contaminated the narrow band of water that separates Staten Island from New Jersey, releasing a strong chemical odor into the air as the diesel rose to the surface and evaporated. Officials said a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/arthur-kill-oil-spill-clean-up-diesel-shell_n_2058723.html">majority of the fuel spilled was captured</a> by booms and that it was fortunate diesel spilled rather than crude oil because cleanup and dissipation would be much faster.
Mayflower, Arkansas Pipeline Rupture - March 2013
In late March 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and spilled about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of Canadian heavy crude oil into a residential area in Mayflower, Arkansas. Exxon later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/exxonmobil-pegasus-pipeline_n_3082441.html" target="_blank">removed a damaged 52-foot section of the pipeline</a>. The company's cleanup efforts -- which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/rachel-maddow-mayflower-oil-spill-exxon_n_3047331.html" target="_blank">reportedly included using paper towels</a> -- were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/colberts-arkansas-oil-spill-exxon_n_3071539.html" target="_blank">criticized in the media</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/arkansas-oil-spill-health-_n_3045610.html" target="_blank">Local residents began reporting health issues</a> not long after the spill. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also expressed his concern for the health of Mayflower residents, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/arkansas-oil-spill-health-mayflower-moms_n_3267965.html" target="_blank">reported The Huffington Post's Lynne Peeples</a>. One month after the spill, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/01/missouri-oil-spill-exxon_n_3194177.html" target="_blank">same pipeline leaked one barrel of oil</a> into a residential yard in Missouri.
Mississippi River Oil Spill - January 2013 (and February 2012)
In January 2013, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/mississippi-river-barge-crash_n_2564418.html">barge carrying 668,000 gallons of light crude oil</a> on the Mississippi River crashed into a railroad bridge. An 80,000 gallon tank on the vessel was damaged, spilling oil into the waterway, which prompted officials to close the river for eight miles in either direction. The spill led to a backup of more than 1,000 barges and the accident is still under investigation. Workers <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Oil-spill-cleanup-on-Mississippi-River-complete-4257729.php">finished clean-up in early February</a>, but the Coast Guard said 7,000 gallons of crude oil are still unaccounted for. This was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/mississippi-river-barge-collision_n_1284166.html">the second collision of an oil tanker</a> on the Mississippi in the past year. In February 2012 two barges collided which led to a five-mile wide closure.
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