Following a string of explosive accidents, federal officials said Thursday that crude oil being shipped by rail from the Northern Plains across the U.S. and Canada may be more flammable than traditional forms of oil.
A safety alert issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation warns the public, emergency responders and shippers about the potential high volatility of crude from the Bakken oil patch. The sprawling oil shale reserve is fueling the surging industry in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, which is now the nation's second-largest oil producer behind Texas.
Thursday's announcement declares that the Bakken's light, sweet crude oil may be different from traditional heavy crudes because it is prone to ignite at a lower temperature. Experts say lighter crudes, which contain more natural gas, have a much lower "flash point" - the temperature at which vapors given off by the oil can ignite.
The government's warning comes after a huge explosion on Monday caused by a crude train derailment near Casselton, N.D. No one was hurt, but worries about toxic fumes prompted the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the small eastern North Dakota town.