Franken wants more oversight of crude oil shipped by rail

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In the wake of recent accidents involving trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields, U.S. Sen. Al Franken is calling for more federal oversight of oil transport by rail.

Franken, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee -- which takes a lead role in writing the federal budget each year -- urging the creation of a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund.

The new program would look at ways to improve the safety of transporting crude oil by train and oil tankers, the Northland News Center reports. The fund would pay for more safety inspections, disaster response training, studies and community outreach, among other things.

The senators also are asking for funding to hire more inspectors.

Lawmakers on the federal and state levels stepped up their scrutiny of oil shipments by rail after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train near Casselton, N.D. in late December, causing an oil spill and a spectacular fire which required the town to evacuate. Congressional committees held hearings on rail safety, and several bills increasing oversight of oil transportation are in committee in the Minnesota House.

The growth in rail transport of crude oil has increased dramatically in just the past few years, according to Franken's office. About 800,000 barrels of crude per day are shipped via rail, which is a 6,000 percent increase since 2007.

Experts are also concerned about the safety of Bakken crude, specifically. Federal officials issued a safety alert in January warning that the crude oil pumped in that region may be more flammable — and therefore, more dangerous — than other forms of oil.

This map, produced by Minnesota 2020, shows the rail routes that go through Minnesota carrying crude oil.

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