Gas vapor eyed as factor in West Virginia oil train fireball

Thu Feb 19, 2015 3:26pm EST
 
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By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON Feb 19 (Reuters) - Federal investigators will examine whether pressurized gas played a role in the massive blast that followed the derailment of a train carrying crude oil through West Virginia this week, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Thursday.

Questioning the possible role of gas vapors in the West Virginia fire broadens the debate over how to ensure public safety at a time when drastically larger volumes of crude oil are being shipped by rail and roll through cities and towns.

At least two dozen oil tankers jumped a CSX Corp track about 30 miles south of the state capital, Charleston, on Monday, touching off a fireball that sent flames hundreds of feet into the sky.

The U.S. Transportation Department said it has an investigator at the site to take samples of crude once the wreckage stops burning.

"We will measure vapor pressure in the tank cars that derailed in West Virginia," said department spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling.

Some experts say the nature of the explosion, which saw a dense cloud of smoke and flame soaring upwards, could be explained by the presence of highly pressurized gas trapped in crude oil moving in the rail cars.

"Vapor pressure could be a factor," said Andre Lemieux of the Canadian Crude Quality Technical Association, a trade group which is helping the Canadian government adopt crude oil quality tests.

The American Petroleum Institute, the leading voice for the oil industry, declined to comment on whether high vapor pressure might have played a role in West Virginia.   Continued...