Local first responders are 'not prepared' to deal with an oil train disaster

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Minnesota's emergency responders have said they are not fully prepared to deal with oil train or pipeline disasters.

Firefighters and other first responders say they need better training to handle a major incident involving the transportation of oil through Minnesota, according to a Department of Public Safety report released Thursday.

While rail companies and the state's hazardous material teams said they have procedures in place, local governments "generally do not have the equipment or personnel to respond to a significant oil transportation incident."

DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said the report is a "wake-up call," according to the Star Tribune, with first responders giving an average score of 2.6 on a scale of 1 to 5 for preparedness in case of oil accidents.

It follows a series of highly-publicized derailments involving trains carrying oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota in recent years.

Each week around 50 oil trains carrying a million gallons of crude oil pass through Minnesota, from North Dakota or Alberta, on the way to refineries in southern and eastern United States, with the majority of these going through the Twin Cities.

The report into first responder preparedness was ordered in response to the growing number of trains across the state, as well as expansions of pipelines from North Dakota and Canada, the Star Tribune notes.

"It is alarming that emergency officials in local communities rate their area's preparedness for an oil transportation incident as below moderate," Sen. Scott Dibble said, according to Detroit Lakes Online.

"We need to make it a high priority for our local emergency agencies to have the tools, information and training to keep our communities and themselves safe."

Low oil prices won't stop trains

The report comes after a state railroad expert told senators that the recent fall in oil prices will not mean fewer oil trains traveling through Minnesota anytime soon, according to the Pioneer Press.

A handful of rigs in the Bakken have closed down as oil prices have gone into freefall, leading to average gas prices of just $1.93 per gallon across Minnesota. But the majority remain operational and will stay that way, in spite of the greater challenge to turn a profit.

Dave Christianson, of MnDOT, told a senate committee Wednesday that it is difficult to restart a rig once it's been shut down, so most will continue to operate even when prices are low.

When prices recover, he says, the number of oil trains could well increase, the newspaper reports.

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