Five Eastern Iowa counties see rail shipments of 1 million gallons or more of extra-flammable crude oil, according to information released Monday by Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Canadian Pacific Railway ships the heavy loads of Bakken crude south from the Iowa-Minnesota border along the Mississippi River through Allamakee, Clayton, Dubuque, Jackson and Clinton counties, the railroad reported.
BNSF Railway hauls 1 million gallons or more of crude through four western Iowa counties — Sioux, Plymouth, Lyon and Woodbury.
“It's nice to know, but we have to be prepared for any incident,” Dubuque Fire Chief Dan Brown said about the county-specific notifications.
Crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and Canada is blamed for fires and explosions during numerous derailments in recent years. The worst of these accidents involved a runaway freight train carrying Bakken crude that crashed into a Quebec town last July, killing 47 people and destroying more than 30 buildings.
Because the Bakken crude has been found to be more flammable than other oil, the U.S. DOT issued an emergency order May 7 giving railroads 30 days to provide each state with county-specific estimates about the number of trains carrying a million gallons or more each week.
The railroads are not required to report how often they ship smaller loads, which could still be more than 30 tank cars.
BNSF and Canadian Pacific wanted states to share the information just with emergency managers, but Iowa officials released the information Monday.
Canadian Pacific's million-gallon-or-more shipments of crude through Eastern Iowa are infrequent, with an average of .05 trains per week. This comes out to one train every 20 weeks, or just a few of the extra-large shipments a year.
Clinton County Emergency Manager Chance Kness said it would be helpful if CP gave counties a warning before a heavy load comes through. “Something that high profile, absolutely,” Kness said.
BNSF's report is more specific, noting the railroad hauled three trains loaded with 1 million gallons or more along its western Iowa route May 29 through June 4. Iowa Homeland Security Spokesman John Benson said this should be interpreted as a typical number of large crude shipments.
The crude oil in question comes from the Bakken formation, which covers about 200,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has caused a boom in recent years.
Oil companies are shipping much of the crude by rail, often using outdated tank cars called DOT-111s that are vulnerable to puncture in a derailment. Bakken crude is more flammable than traditional crude oil.
Many eastern Iowa emergency responders have said they don't have enough supplies to fight a fire from even one tank car of oil — much less a unit train carrying 35 cars.
“We're talking about reaching out to our partners in multiple counties and multiple states,” Kness said. l Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org