Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Studies confirm North Dakota Bakken Shale crude oil is more flammable than most; rides the rails

Crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale could be more flammable than most, according to a pair of studies in response to Bakken Shale derailments last year that resulted in explosions, reports EnergyWire. The crude oil hauled by a train that crashed in July in Quebec, killing 47 people, reacted like gasoline, according to a lab report released last week by Canada's Transportation Safety Board. "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," the study found.

The study concluded that "light, 'sweet' crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale play might be more hazardous than other types," EnergyWire reports. The U.S. Department of Transportation came to a similar conclusion about an explosion from a derailment last year in North Dakota, sending out "a safety alert warning that Bakken crude 'may be more flammable' than its conventional counterparts." (Read more)

More crude oil was spilled in U.S. railway accidents in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined. That led the Transportation Department to recommend tougher standards for shipping crude oil by rail, and also led the agency to issue an emergency order last month requiring oil-train shippers to check their crude for volatility. A more alarming report also came out that the agency often gives out small fines against the railroads it regulates.

Last week the agency released an order on new testing requirements, saying "that within the 'reasonable, recent past' companies must have tested the flash point and boiling point of crude. Such tests help determine how likely the fuel is to ignite and dictates what type of rail car can be used for shipments," reports The Associated Press. "Officials also warned companies not to re-label crude as a more generic category of flammable liquid in an attempt to get around the testing." Companies could face civil penalties of $175,000 per day for each violation.  (Read more)

Those rules might not be strict enough for some, with transportation regulators telling members of a Senate hearing last week that "they may push for standards that go above and beyond crude shippers' expectations," Blaze Sobczak reports for EnergyWire. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration chief Cynthia Quarterman "indicated that the agency in its rulemaking may not spare cars that are compliant with those standards," and said standards suggested by an advisory group of  by the Association of American Railroads weren't adequate enough, and may require updates for cars made after 2011. (Read more)

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