RR Report: Bakken Crude Does Not Cause Accidents

By The Bakken magazine staff | June 21, 2014

Crude-by-rail shipments have quadrupled in the past decade and, according to Kip Wills, director of the U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials SafetyAdministration’s Central Region office, the increase is not slowing.. The increase in crude-by-rail has provided oil producers a flexible option to transport Bakken crude to available markets on the East, West and Gulf Coasts, an economic element of crude by rail that will keep the practice strong for years to come regardless of pipeline installation, Wells said.

The benefits of shipping crude by rail have not come without a handful of negative incidents, mainly train car derailments. To ensure that PHMSA is helping to decrease the number of incidents related to the Bakken, Wills conducted a two-year study on crude by rail, specifically in western North Dakota, during which he spent more than 80 nights in North Dakota over the past year. He has a clear message about what he has seen. “Bakken crude didn’t cause any of the accidents,” he said. The issue is with rail infrastructure or human error.

In February and March, Wills led a team effort to conduct inspections of rail car facilities and crude handling locations that included visits to 40 facilities, and educational outreach sessions for first responders on flammable-liquid incident protocols. As a result, the team now has 10 enforcement actions pending. But, crude handling via rail does not have any major issues, Wills says.

 For Wills, a state trooper, the one issue that is concerning is the: crude moved from the well site to a pipeline or transloading facility via cargo tank. Because not all liquid cargo tanks are the same, and not all are classified to haul a specific type of Bakken crude, some tankers are moving crude without the proper classification. This summer, Wills intends to focus more on cargo tank hauling and he hopes operators will take note. “They will have to come up with some kind of testing protocol for properly matching crude type with the proper cargo tank,” he said.

To help operators test the crude before shipment, facilities like Williston’s newest testing site can help. Inspectorate, a division of Bureau Veritas Commodities Division, global testing and analysis firm that recently opened a lab in Williston, is one of many firms that can analyze crude oil and gas from a North Dakota well. Neil Chapman, operations director for the lab, said his team can ensure that operators or crude handlers are in compliance with regulations. “We are heavily involved in making sure the fuel is tested correctly to ensure the correct packaging group is applied for that oil movement,” he said.

One of the main benefits of Inspectorate’s services is the minimal time to test and provide crude characteristic results back to its clients. The Williston facility can complete a testing procedure in 24 hours, Chapman said. The timeliness of the lab help crude handlers cut the lead times required to line up the appropriate cargo tanks for hauling.

Although its initial focus on crude characteristic testing will represent the largest portion of its service offerings, Chapman believes other testing services will help to expand the reach of the Williston lab, including other testing services related to the transportation of crude and of handling ceramic-based proppants.