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North Dakota Moves to Reduce Volatility of Oil Shipped By Rail

Bakken crude oil train.
If you’ve listened to the news this past year, you’ve probably heard of the number of recent Bakken oil train crashes and explosions.
In fact there have been 10 major accidents in the past 18 months in US and Canada due to trains carrying Bakken oil.
So what’s causing the sudden onslaught of explosions?
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the oil coming from the Bakken Shale has a higher chance of exploding compared to regular oil because it has a higher level of volatility.
New rules
It makes sense that State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told the state Industrial Commission that all crude oil from North Dakota’s oil patch must be in a stable state before being loaded onto rail cars.
This will involve treating crude to reduce its volatility to below 13.7 pounds per square inch, which is less than the 14.7 psi threshold that is recognized national standards as being stable.
Although this sounds like a logical move, oppositions in the industry are fighting back.
Many of those in the North Dakota oil and gas industry oppose the rule because:

  1. They are reluctant to cover the costs they will incur from stripping certain oils and gases from the Bakken oil.
  2. They believe that heating the oil to reduce its volatility will increase the amount of emissions that are released.
  3. They believe that the oil is no more dangerous that other types of crude produced elsewhere in the United States.

Other ways to prevent explosions
Other than reducing the volatility of oil, oil train safety can be increased with the following measures.
Better cars
US and Canada have moved to phase out DOT-111 cars, which are used to transport oil. These cars were involved in the Lac-Mégantic train crash in Quebec, which led to 72 tanker cars derailing in the town center killing 47 people.
Dot-111 cars are considered easy to rupture and too thin to carry volatile substances. They are meant to carry safer items such as soybeans and corn.
Better brakes
The White House suggested in its July 2014 proposal for the Safe Transportation of Crude Oil and Flammable Materials that electronic “pneumatic” brakes and rollover protection should be added to oil trains.
Out of the estimated 92,000 tank cars used to transport oil and gas in the US, only 14,000 have the updated safety features. Modifying them could cost the industry about $5.2 billion according to estimates by Bloomberg Government.
Do you think North Dakota’s move to decrease oil volatility is a good idea? Tweet us @castagra and let us know what you think.

TNphoto Tatsuya Nakagawa
Tatsuya Nakagawa is the VP of Marketing and co-founder of Castagra Products, a storage tank and wastewater coatings manufacturing company that is highly acclaimed for its sustainable coatings, cold weather tank and secondary containment coating applications, and its durable frac tank coatings. Castagra is used by the world’s top oil and gas field services companies.