3 Minnesota bills seek to address oil transport safety concerns

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2014 - 8:48 PM

Measures call for more training and inspectors, better crossings.

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Ed McConnell, the mayor of Casselton, N.D., among wreckage from a recent oil-train explosion in Casselton, N.D., Jan. 16, 2014. A fiery rail accident last month in Casselton, N.D., which prompted residents to evacuate the town, has shattered people's confidence in the crude-oil convoys that rumble past seven times a day. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times) ORG XMIT: MIN2014021912571962

A Minneapolis legislator has introduced three bills to beef up Minnesota’s emergency response to crude oil transportation disasters.

The measures, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, would create a hazard incident preparedness grant program funded partly by $5 million in new fees assessed on railroads and pipeline companies based on their shipping levels in Minnesota.

“We have a proliferation of oil trains and pipelines in this state,” Hornstein said in an interview. “This is an unprecedented challenge to the state. We need to have these resources to keep communities safe.”

Three bills were introduced Monday that would require railroads to regularly notify local officials about oil train movements, require railroads and pipeline operators to respond to spills promptly, improve grade crossings and add state track inspectors.

The legislation grew out of concern that firefighters across the state lack training and specialized equipment to fight a massive fire like the Dec. 30 oil train wreck near Casselton, N.D., in which multiple tank cars exploded and burst into flames.

Hornstein said the legislative package would cost about $10 million a year, with half the funds coming from the state treasury and the rest from the new rail-pipeline fee.

About six oil trains travel through the Twin Cities each day, according to the Minnesota Transportation Department. The oil comes from North Dakota, where railroads transport most of that state’s growing crude oil output to market.

Hornstein and others held a news conference last month about the legislation. He is chairman of the House Transportation Finance Committee. Companion bills are being introduced in the state Senate, he said.

Under a new preparedness program, fire departments could apply for grants to train firefighters, purchase equipment and stockpile supplies, such as fire-retarding foam used against oil fires. Other state funds would be spent to improve grade crossings in areas where oil trains pass, Hornstein said.

 

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090

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  • FILE -- In this June 20, 2013 file photo, black tank cars used to transport crude oil from North Dakota are parked among other rail traffic at a train yard in Tacoma, Wash. Washington lawmakers on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, are considering competing measures that try to address safety issues surrounding the increased number of crude oil trains moving throughout the state. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is taking testimony on a mostly Republican-backed bill. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee is hearing another measure, favored by environmentalists. (AP Photo/Tacoma News Tribune, Lui Kit Wong, File)

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