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June 26, 2014
Group finds no high risk in Bakken crude

Concerns about above-average risks of explosions and fires associated with shipments of crude petroleum from the Bakken region of North Dakota were not confirmed by testing of more than 150 samples, reported the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC).  Data from the third-party testing were reported to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which recently said that it has received other data from tests of Bakken crude from 10 other companies and industry associations following its “call to action” to industry stakeholders in early 2014 to participate in efforts to ensure the safety of the dramatically increased number of rail shipments of this resource.

“This is the third independent study to confirm that Bakken crude does not significantly differ from other crude oils and poses no greater risks than other flammable liquids authorized for rail transport,” said Kari Cutting, vice president of the NDPC.

Call to action

In January 2014, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx wrote to petroleum and railroad organizations requesting they undertake measures to improve rail safety while transporting Bakken crude and also provide the PHMSA with test data about the characteristics of crude oil in the Bakken region.  The PHMSA was particularly concerned that Bakken crude is properly classified to ensure that it is transported in railcars rated for the actual level of risk.

In response to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) call, the NDPC retained Turner, Mason & Company, which obtained the samples from 15 well sites and 7 rail loading facilities covering the entire Bakken area.  According to the NDPC, the samples were tested multiple times over a 1-month period, ending in late April.

“The broad slate of tests and the more than 150 samples analyzed make this one of the most comprehensive independent studies of its kind ever conducted in the U.S.,” says the NDPC.

Data reported

The NDPC reports that testing of the Bakken crude samples indicated the following:

  • An average American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity of 41 degrees, similar to other light crudes,
  • An average vapor pressure of 11.5 to 11.8 pounds per square inch (psi), which is 61 percent below the vapor pressure threshold limit for liquids under PHMSA’s hazardous materials regulations,
  • A flashpoint of less than 73 degrees Fahrenheit (?F), which is within normal range,
  • An average initial boiling point near 99.6?F, which is within normal range, and
  • An average sulfur weight of 0.14, which indicates low corrosivity.

Other studies

In addition to the main work, two smaller studies were completed, reports the NDPC.  The first compared the quality of the crude as loaded in North Dakota to the quality at discharge, more than 1,500 miles away.

The data indicated no significant changes in transit.  The second looked at the effects of seasonality, which showed that the vapor pressure stayed within a relatively narrow range, despite widely varying seasonal temperatures.

“Since Bakken crude is no more dangerous than other products moved by rail, accident prevention efforts focused on track maintenance, staff training, and train speeds will be the key to improving safety,” said Cutting.

Information about the NDPC study and DOT’s call to action.
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