Crude oil disaster by rail a real risk for our area

To the Editor:

Recently a number of concerned citizens and community leaders met with a representative of Tim Walz’s office to discuss issues related to rail transport of crude oil through our area. The purpose of the meeting was to send a message to Washington that we need immediate action taken to reduce the risks of an oil rail car disaster.

Rail lines along both sides of the Mississippi are carrying more and more crude oil. This is the same crude oil that recently caused the explosion in Castleton, N.D., as well as many other oil rail car disasters in the U.S. and Canada in 2013. In July, 47 people lost their lives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, due to derailed oil cars that ruptured. These same type of oil tank cars travel by our doorsteps on an hourly basis. All this oil is coming from the Bakken Oil Field in western North Dakota and southern Canada.

Bakken crude oil shipments by rail topped over one million barrels per day last year and are forecasted to reach two million barrels per day this year. There are currently approximately 92,000 DOT-111 rail tanker cars used to transport this oil. Out of the 92,000, there are 78,000 that are not up to current safety standards. This has been known for years yet our government has done nothing to fix this.

To top this off, it has been discovered that the Bakken crude oil being shipped is highly volatile – more so than other crude oil. The combination of the deficient tanker cars and highly volatile oil has led to numerous horrific disasters just in 2013 alone.

Proponents of the Keystone Pipeline may argue that if we had the pipeline this would solve our local issue. Such is not the case. If the Keystone Pipeline were built, it could only handle 800,000 barrels per day. In 2014, the projected amount of oil removed from the Bakken Oil Field by rail alone will increase to two million barrels per day and continue to increase over the coming years. The Keystone Pipeline would not be able to handle half of all the oil. Even if it could, there will be a continuance of oil via rail to service refineries south and east of here. Oil transportation through our community is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The potential for death and the destruction of our river towns as well as our refuge is at stake here.

What needs to be done?

• We need to urge our elected officials to press Washington to upgrade DOT-111 tanker cars immediately.

• Impose meaningful, monetary penalties on the owners of the tankers if they do not comply in a timely manner.

• Communities in southeast Minnesota and surrounding states need to coordinate a disaster recovery plan in case it happens here.

• Our Wildlife and Fish Service needs to form specific action plans for each pool along the Mississippi River to help mitigate any oil spills that may occur.

Thank you for your time.


Alan Stankevitz

Mound Prairie Township, MN


Walz requests hearing on rail safety


An Editor’s Note: In a related matter to the letter titled “Crude oil disaster by rail a real risk for our area,” Rep. Tim Walz called for a hearing on rail safety Jan. 15.


On Jan. 15, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, joined his colleagues in sending a letter to Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) requesting a hearing be held to examine rail safety. Representative Walz’s staff met with concerned citizens in La Crescent earlier this week about the issue and agreed with the Congressman that a hearing is necessary.

“We must do everything we can to protect the communities that these hazardous materials are shipped through,” Walz said. “That is why I’m calling on my friend from California, Chairman Denham, to hold a hearing to examine this issue and find out what can be done to increase rail safety. It’s a miracle that no one was injured after the accident in Casselton. If nothing is done, next time we may not be so lucky.”