Are more oil trains headed for Minnesota?

Ann Arbor Miller/for MPR News

Will Keystone XL pipeline delays mean more oil trains passing through Minnesota?

TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone pipeline to move oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, says it’s now considering increased rail shipments in place of new pipeline capacity.

The environmental impact statement on the Keystone pipeline expansion laid out a rail shipping scenario that included this map of proposed routes for as many as 14 unit trains of oil per day. Unit train is a term that generally refers to engines hauling about 100 cars.

Map from US State Department EIS

Add that to the increasing oil train traffic from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota (estimated to reach more than 14 trains per day later this year)  and there’s the potential for 25 to 30 oil trains a day moving through  parts of Minnesota.

The thick tar-like bitumen from Canada is not as volatile as the light crude from the Bakken.  According to experts,  the heavy crude is often mixed with lighter oil , such as Bakken crude, to make it flow more easily.  Tank cars that can be heated with steam are also used to transport the heavy oil.  The oil is heated to speed unloading.

Cities and towns along the rails in Minnesota are rethinking how well prepared they are for an accident involving an oil train.

That worry became very real in December after a derailment, fire and explosions just across the state line in Casselton, North Dakota, were triggered by crude oil cars from the Bakken oil fields.