Cause Of Iowa Derailment, Oil Spill Amount Still Under Wraps

DOON, Iowa (AP) — Crews were scrambling Saturday to clean up a BNSF oil train derailment in northwest Iowa that dumped crude into floodwaters, while officials seek to get a handle on the extent of the spill and its cause.

Thirty-three oil tanker cars derailed Friday just south of Doon in Lyon County, leaking oil into surrounding floodwaters from the swollen Little Rock River. BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said Saturday that the cause of the derailment hadn’t yet been determined, but a disaster proclamation issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds for Lyon and three other counties placed the blame on rain-fueled flooding.

Some officials have speculated that floodwaters eroded soil beneath the train track. The nearby Little Rock River rose rapidly after heavy rain.

The amount of oil spilled also wasn’t known by Saturday afternoon, Williams said, but he added that officials hoped to have a better idea once they’re able to reach the derailed oil tankers.

Within hours of the derailment, BNSF had brought in dozens of semitrailers loaded with equipment to clean up the spill, including containment booms, skimmers and vacuum trucks.

A major part of that work includes building a temporary road parallel to the tracks to allow in cranes that can remove the derailed and partially-submerged oil cars. Williams said officials hoped to reach the cars by sometime Saturday afternoon.

The train was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Stroud, Oklahoma, for ConocoPhillips. ConocoPhillips spokesman Daren Beaudo said each tanker can hold more than 25,000 gallons (20,817 imperial gallons) of oil. He did not know how much had spilled.

Beaudo also did not know whether the derailed oil cars were the safer, newer tankers intended to help prevent leaks in the event of an accident.

“We lease those cars and are in the process of verifying with the owners the exact rail car specifications,” Beaudo said in an email.

Reynolds was set to visit the derailment site Saturday afternoon as part of a tour of areas hit by recent flooding.

The derailment also caused concern downstream, including as far south as Omaha, Nebraska, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from the derailment site. The spill reached the Rock River, which joins the Big Sioux River before merging into the Missouri River at Sioux City.

Omaha’s public water utility — Metropolitan Utilities District — said it was monitoring pumps it uses to pull drinking water from the Missouri River.

Rock Valley, Iowa, just southwest of the derailment, shut off its water wells within hours of the accident. It plans to drain and clean its wells and use a rural water system until testing shows its water is safe.