CN officials said late Sunday that a "controlled burn" was being done on the contents of six of the cars containing propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas or LPG. CN said the decision to conduct the burn was reached with in accord with Transport Canada, Alberta Environment, and officials in Alberta's Parkland County.
The incident may further spur criticism of rail's growing role in moving oil products, generated largely by development of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) in the U.S. and Canada and the resultant need to overcome limited oil pipeline capacity in North America. Growth in such haulage has been substantial, and to some degree has offset declines in coal traffic among many railroads. But the cargo also has been made controversial by the derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic consist in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last July 6, causing an explosion that devastated much of the community and killed at least 47 people.
Reuters reported the explosion was the "third Canadian Nationalway Railway derailment in recent weeks and is likely to fan opposition to the crude-by-rail boom taking place in Canada as the country's oil producers seek alternatives to congested pipelines." But the prior two incidents did not involve crude-by-rail shipments.
Of the 13 cars in the CN consist, nine carried propane, while four of the cars carried crude; the crude oil cars were reported intact and kept away from any fire. About 100 residents of Gainford, Alberta, were evacuated safely.