Trains Full of Toxic Oil Run Next to Nuclear Missile Silos

Monday, May 18, 2015
Red, Yellow and Green dots are missile sites. (graphic: Minot Air Force Base Joint Land Use Study)

On February 16, a train full of volatile oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields derailed and caught fire in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. It forced the evacuation of hundreds of families and since two cars went into the Kanawha River, two water treatment plants were shut down. The train and its cargo burned for days because there’s not really a protocol for putting out a fire fueled by 3 million gallons of volatile crude.


Believe it or not, that train wreck was a best-case scenario. Earlier in its journey from western North Dakota, that train had passed just a few hundred feet from a fully fueled and armed nuclear missile. The consequences of a similar derailment and fire next to a missile silo could have been a true catastrophe.


One-third of the missiles controlled by Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota are in the Bakken oil field and the trains carrying much of that volatile output pass in close proximity to many missile sites, according to a report (video) on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”


Air Force documents obtained by the show highlight the Pentagon’s concern about the problem. A Master Conflict Table (pdf) shows a problem with a Canadian Pacific rail spur that crosses a 1,200-foot easement around a missile launch facility (MLF), or silo. “Construction may cause vibrations that may impact MLFs and includes the presence of civilians adjacent to a MLF, posing potential security concerns. Increases threat from derailment adjacent to MLF. Hazardous contents of rail cars present safety concern within 1,200-foot easement,” the entry reads.


A second table (pdf) puts the danger in more general terms. “Rail oil cars in close proximity to MLFs and MAFs (missile alert facility, or control room) poses a man-made disasters concern,” according to the Air Force.


A nuclear expert quoted in the MSNBC report said, “You have a potential disaster on your hands, with not just casualties in the immediate area, but radioactive contamination and fallout all around.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

U.S. Military Concerned About Oil Train Proximity to Missile Sites (video) “The Rachel Maddow Show,” MSNBC

Missile Sites, Oil Wells Co-Existing (by Lauren Donovan, Bismarck Tribune)

In West Virginia, a Collective Sigh After the Chaos (by Lexi Belculfine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Master Conflict Table (pdf) (U.S. Air Force)

Master Conflict Table 2 (pdf) (U.S. Air Force)

Missile Site Encroachments, Minot Air Force Base Area (pdf) (Minot Air Force Base Joint Land Use Study)

With Domestic Oil Production at 27-Year High and Increased Rail Shipments, Rail Accidents are Actually Declining in Frequency (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

More Oil Spilled from Trains Last Year than in Previous 37 Years Combined (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Paul Wulterkens 9 years ago
It is currently left up to the railroads to decide whether to reroute oil trains around heavily populated or environmentally sensitive areas. There are 27 criteria, publicly known, they have to consider. But the routes they choose are kept secret. In computing the probability of derailment, the assumptions do not usually reflect the special conditions that increase hazards around cities. Data on track flaws is not made available by location. Data on the differences in force exerted by long heavy oil trains is not made known, only broad averages. Damages such as at Lac-Megantic where 47 people perished are not adjusted in analyses of probable damage in cities with 10 times the population density of that ill fated Canadian town. Data on the number, location, and results of rail inspections are not published. It would be quite an eye opener, and be more meaningful than tallying oil cars, for mayors to count cracks, warps, twistings, widenings in their rails and rotting ties, while giving a wide berth to the railroad detectives trying to pinch them for trespassing. It is the role of the Federal Railroad Administration to develop and enforce inspections and data collection and reporting. That they have been lax is self evident as one thinks about all he or she does not know about the oil trains that roll through the neighborhoods of 16 million Americans. That their loose enforcement is rewarded by the railroads with deposits to their politician bosses is undeniable. Please let the FRA hear from regular people. Sign the attached petition telling the FRA to strictly enforce railroad health and safety rules.
Mary S. 9 years ago
Just an FYI on your facts. I'm not disagreeing that any crash with oil is a terrible tragedy, but I wanted to point out the Bakken crude is not tar sands oil. Tar sands are located in Canada, and crude from ND's Bakken formation is sweet crude.

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