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Federal warning about flammability of North Dakota crude oil

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Federal officials issued a safety alert on Thursday that warns that crude oil pumped in the Northern Plains and shipped across the U.S. by rail may be more flammable -- and therefore, more dangerous -- than traditional forms of oil.

Forum News Service reports the safety alert comes from the the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It advises emergency responders that Bakken crude from the oil shale patch in Montana and North Dakota poses a significant fire risk if released in an accident.

The Associated Press reported that the new safety alert resulted in part from results of preliminary tests on Bakken oil that confirmed its volatility.

The warning comes after an oil train derailment and explosion on Monday near Casselton, N.D. Although there were no injuries in the incident, fears about the potentially toxic fumes prompted the evacuation of the town. Detroit Lakes Online reported that Robert Sumwalt, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, has released preliminary results of the agency’s investigations. The findings said that a broken axle will be studied to determine if it played a role in the derailment and crash.

As the rails have been increasingly relied upon to transport the oil out of the region, the trains have become a public safety concern in communities bisected by rail lines. About 70 percent of the crude oil produced in North Dakota is transported by rail, an amount that has jumped from 10,000 tanker cars to a projected 400,000 cars in 2013.

In July, 47 people were killed when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec,. Another oil train derailed and exploded in Alabama in November. There were no casualties, but an estimated 749,000 gallons of oil from 26 tanker cars was released.

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