News / USA

Bakken Crude Volatility, Rail Safety Scrutinized in Northern US

Bakken Crude Rail Shipments Scrutinized in Northern USi
Kane Farabaugh
June 04, 2014 8:02 PM
US transportation department issues emergency order requiring shippers to test Bakken oil to ensure that it is properly classified prior to transit, but several industry-funded studies say Bakken is no more dangerous or volatile than other US crude. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
The U.S. department of transportation recently issued an emergency order requiring shippers of Bakken oil to ensure that the substance is properly classified prior to transit.

The order comes nearly a year after 72 tank cars derailed in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic, sparking a massive explosion and fire that killed 47 people.

The crude oil in the tanker cars had come from the Bakken formation, a crude deposit that underlies subsurface portions of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, and North Dakota, the country's second largest oil-producing state, where companies extract roughly one million barrels of crude per day.

Since several accidents have raised concerns about Bakken crude transportation methods — and the volatility the substance itself — some regulators are seeking safer methods of transport.

But several industry-funded studies say Bakken is no more dangerous or volatile than other U.S. crude.

According to Jeff Hume, vice chairman of the oil production company Continental Resources, current regulations suffice.

“From what we tested and what we have gotten, it fits the specifications that FIMSA has today for the rails cars that we are shipping it in," he said. "So under today’s rules, we are moving it in a proper container.”

About 70 percent of North Dakota and Montana crude oil leaves by rail. North Dakota Petroleum Council Vice President Kari Cutting says shippers and producers are following government rules.

“All of those federal regulations that have been followed by Bakken, since we started producing Bakken — as far as classifying it, putting it in rail cars, moving it safely, all of the things that the shippers and producers have to do before it goes in to that railcar — all of those rules were followed,” Cutting said.

The safety concerns about rail have underscored the benefits of pipelines, but North Dakota State University Economist Dean Bangsund describes the existing pipeline infrastructure as inadequate.

“A big issue in the state right now is the lack of pipeline capacity, and that the pipeline capacity to take the crude oil out of the state ends up with large price discounts," he said. "So the industry is [aiming] to move crude oil out of the state by rail.”

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would connect pipes from Canada to the southern United States and allow 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil to flow daily to a proposed link in the town of Baker, Montana.

“Some of the crude that is coming through the existing pipelines would get moved into that, therefore displacing and adding existing capacity to some of the pipelines we already have in place,” Bangsund said.

But concerns about the environmental risks of the Keystone XL pipeline have put it on hold. Though the cost to ship crude oil by rail is typically more expensive than pipelines, some companies still prefer that option because trains can reach more refineries than existing pipelines.

Kane Farabaugh

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

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Comment Sorting
by: Ron Schalow
June 04, 2014 8:46 PM

When is a North Dakota leader going to stand up and say; "I know how to fix this problem. The oil from our State needs to be stripped of the explosive gases, and put in tanker cars thicker than a soda can, because it's EXPLOSIVE!" You don't need more studies to figure that out.

Congressman Kevin Cramer was there as a Regulator.

PSC Commissioner Brian Kalk knows.

Our AG & Ag Commissioner on the Industrial Commission. Yup.

Governor Dalrymple. For sure.

PSC Commissioner Fedorchak must have figured it out by now.

Al Carlson? More...?

It's that simple. And, it's going to cost Continental, Whiting, Oasis, and the rest a bundle; but whose problem is that?

Our economy is going to take a hit, because Cities & States will decide not to let ND oil pass by on their tracks; but whose fault is that?

If our anti-regulation ND leaders had done their jobs years ago, half the Country, wouldn't be having night sweats right now, and they wouldn't be responsible for 47 deaths, plus billions in property & environmental damage, and Bakken crude wouldn't be a National problem.

“Light, sweet crude has a greater flammable range than gasoline,” said Clay Reid, a hazardous materials response expert with BNSF. “Just understand that part.”

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