Weather Forecast


Bakken crude not the problem, industry-commissioned study finds

DICKINSON, N.D. -- As regulators and industry debate crude-by-rail safety, one industry-backed study has found Bakken crude fits within safety standards for the rail cars it’s currently transported in -- and North Dakota’s oil industry group said its study is showing the same.

A study commissioned by refining group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers found Bakken crude not to be any more flammable than oil from several other formations.

“I think it’s a great message that you have two completely independent studies that have come to the same conclusion,” said North Dakota Petroleum Council Vice President Kari Cutting, whose group is finding similar results, “and that conclusion is that Bakken crude does not pose any larger risk than any other transportation fuels hauled by rail.”

Comparison of data on Bakken crude with other crudes showed the Bakken’s is “well within the norm” for hazardous characteristics, study author Frits Wybenga wrote in the report.

Bakken crude’s Reid Vapor Pressure, which increases with flammability, was found to be 7.83 pounds per square inch absolute (psia), compared to 7.95 at Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, 5.90 for West Texas Intermediate and 7.82 for Colorado’s DJ Basin. The highest RVP compared to the Bakken’s was Arabian Super Light, from Saudi Arabia, with 20.7 psia.

“This report was aimed at specifically addressing the characteristics of Bakken crude and concludes that its characteristics are no different than other light crude oils,” AFPM President Charles Drevna said in a statement.

The study was seen by some as a win for the oil industry in the war over who will be forced to adapt to new regulations in light of several crude-by-rail accidents -- its business or the rail industry. Regulators have questioned whether Bakken crude has more light ends like propane, butane and ethane, making it more volatile.

“Rail safety is a shared responsibility, and AFPM and our members are committed to doing our part. But new specifications must be based in data showing the benefits are real and that the new design will not adversely impact our ability to provide the fuels and other products Americans depend on every day,” Drevna said.

The oil industry says the crude therefore falls under the “Class III” flammable definition, as defined by the Department of Transportation, which can be transported in the existing DOT-111 rail cars.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council is finding similar results in a study it commissioned, Cutting said.

After a year of explosive crude-by-rail accidents, the oil industry says the problem lies with the rail the crude is transported on.

“These studies really indicated that the DOT-111 rail car is sufficient to handle this material,” Cutting said. “... there’s plenty of safety margin built into that rail car.”

Citing concerns about its crash-heartiness, the National Transportation Safety Board has called on regulators to weed the DOT-111 out of flammable liquids service for more than two decades. Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation urged shippers to stop using the older tank car models to move Bakken crude.

DOT-111 cars punctured and exploded in several high-profile crude-by-rail accidents, including the Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton.

The Petroleum Council will publicize initial results of its study, carried out by Dallas-based Turner, Mason and Co., at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference on Tuesday. The firm and an independent lab gathered samples from 12 well sites and six rail depots in the Bakken, including the Fryburg terminal.

Rockville, Md.-based Dangerous Goods Transport Consulting performed AFPM’s study with 1,400 samples of Bakken crude collected from 17 member companies -- from initial loading points at one end and receiving refineries at the other.