Oil Spill Defense Act testimony at Minnesota Capitol - KMSP-TV

Oil train disaster concerns take stage at Minnesota Capitol

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

A hearing on the Oil Spill Defense Act brought together lawmakers, emergency managers and railroad executives Thursday morning at the State Capitol for testimony on the safety of crude oil trains running through Minnesota.

The bill from Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) aims to address the danger posed to Minnesota cities by the transportation of crude oil by rail, pipeline and oil tankers.


- Bruce West, Office of Pipeline Safety

- Mona Doman, Public Safety Commissioner

- John Stine, Pollution Control Agency Commissioner

- Brian Sweeney, BNSF Railway government affairs

- Greg Jeffries, BNSF Railway environmental response engineer

- David Brown, chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen

- Phil Qualey, United Transportation Union

- Chris Parsons, Professional Firefighters

- Mark Nichols, American Association of Safety Engineers


Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf told the Fox 9 Investigators that different tracks through his town keep him up at night, worrying about the worst-case scenario.

"They're coming through one, two in the morning," Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf said. "I lay awake and think about, 'what if?' You would have a large amount of fatalities, a large amount of critically-injured people and an incident that would be incredibly manpower-intensive to bring under control."

INVESTIGATORS: Explosive oil trains

In the past year, there have been at least three rail explosions involving oil cars:

- Alabama

- North Dakota

- Lac Megantic, Quebec

Out of 20 Minnesota fire departments the Fox 9 Investigators spoke with, only 4 have conducted specialized training. In fact, many emergency disaster plans were written before the height of the oil boom.

At Thursday's hearing, Minnesota Homeland Security director Kris Eide said oil train crashes in rural areas are an especially big concern because they are covered by volunteer fire departments. Eide said the advice her department gives those volunteer departments is to evacuate residents first and let the oil train burn.

Tuesday night, federal regulators also issued an emergency order requiring tests of crude oil to determine how likely cargo may be to explode or catch fire prior to shipping.

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