Canada reports crude oil as explosive as gas

The crude oil that exploded during a derailment in Quebec last year had characteristics similar to that of unleaded gasoline, a highly flammable liquid, Canada’s transportation safety agency says.
By CHARMAINE NORONHA, Associated Press Published: March 7, 2014

The crude oil that exploded during a 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 newly released report that the crude tested by Canada’s transportation agency 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 transportation board said Thursday that the lower flashpoint of the oil on the train explains in part why it ignited so quickly once the tank cars were breached.

“The large quantities of spilled crude oil, the rapid rate of release and the oil’s high volatility and low viscosity were likely the major contributors to the large post-derailment fireball and pool fire,” said the agency.

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.