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Crude oil hauled by train was as explosive as gas, Canada report says

TORONTO – The crude oil that exploded during a fatal derailment in Quebec last year that killed 47 people had characteristics similar to that of unleaded gasoline, a highly flammable liquid, Canada’s transportation safety agency said Thursday.

The Transportation Safety Board said in a new report that the crude had a low flash point, which refers to the temperature at which the crude gives off enough vapor to ignite in air.

Last July, a runaway train with 72 tankers of oil derailed and exploded in the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic near the Maine border, destroying the town’s center.

The agency noted that there was no indication that the crude oil’s properties had been affected by contamination from fracturing, or fracking, a process used to capture gas or oil from underground shale by applying pressure by pumping fluids into the wellbore to open up pathways through which the oil can flow into.

The report said that the oil involved in the accident should have been classified as a more dangerous flammable liquid than the train’s placards indicated. The report said the oil from the cars was a Class 3, PG II product, although it had been documented as a less volatile, Class 3 PG III.

The agency took oil samples from nine tank cars that were intact after the crash and subjected them to a rigorous analysis.

Concerns about transporting oil by train were heightened after the fiery train crash, along with a string of other explosive accidents across North America, which prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue an alert about the potential high volatility of crude from the Bakken oil patch, which straddles North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The amount of oil moving by rail in the U.S. has spiked since 2009, from just more than 10,000 tanker cars to a projected 400,000 cars in 2013.