Bakken crude: Could pipelines replace the need for oil-by-rail?
By Zach Koppang, August 14, 2015
The transportation of Bakken crude is beginning to shift away from the railways and into pipelines as production levels off in the wake of last year’s price collapse and more oil and gas pipelines are brought online.
Rusty Braziel, analyst with RBN Energy, explained, “Since 2012 a combination of rail and pipeline has given Bakken producers ample crude takeaway capacity, but pipelines alone have not had sufficient capacity on their own.” Though, as production maintains a consistent rate, pipeline capacity is beginning to catch up. Braziel added, “By 2017 there should be enough pipelines to carry all North Dakota’s crude to market.”
Last week Continental Resources reported that it now ships over two-thirds of its Bakken crude by pipeline, reports Reuters. In the second quarter 2015, the company, North Dakota’s second-largest producer, pushed approximately 160,000 barrels of crude per day through Kinder Morgan owned pipelines. For comparison, it shipped nearly all of its oil by train in 2014. During a conference call, Continental CFO John Hart said, “Approximately 70 percent of our Bakken production is now delivered to market via pipeline.”
Director of RBN Energy Analytics Sandy Fielden said, “As soon as price differentials – especially between domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and international benchmark Brent – narrowed, then barrels shifted back to pipelines to take advantage of their cheaper tariff rates. Yet significant crude volumes continued to be transported to market from North Dakota by rail because pipeline capacity could not handle the demand.” Recently, however, the planning and construction of new pipelines throughout the region has substantially increased overall shipping capacity, threatening the once booming business of BNSF Railway and others.
The trend is becoming more common as oil producing states, North Dakota included, begin to rely more heavily on pipelines rather than rail transport, which is vulnerable to weather, construction delays and bottlenecks. Transporting oil-by-rail has also become heavily scrutinized following a series of explosive, and sometimes deadly, oil train derailments. The most notable incident occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a runaway oil train derailed and killed 47 people. The frequency and severity of derailments has led to increased scrutiny and regulation, much to the dismay of the rail industry.
However, Fielden explains, “Just because pipeline capacity is available doesn’t necessarily mean producers will prefer to use that capacity instead of rail.” Over 1 million barrels of oil per day continue to ride U.S. railways en route to refineries on the east and west coasts. Tesoro and BP, for example, opt to receive oil via rail due to the flexibility of the supply contracts when compared to pipeline shipments.
The RBN analysis reports that in theory, as new pipeline projects come online, all Bakken crude could be shipped to market via pipeline. Projects due to begin operating by the end of 2016 and throughout 2017 will expand takeaway capacity by 680,000 barrels per day. Fielden said, “The planning and buildout of a series of new pipelines out of North Dakota that (if they are all built) should increase capacity enough to provide space for all the barrels currently traveling to market from North Dakota by rail.”
Repost from The New York Times [Editor: This is an INCREDIBLE, intimate portrait of the lives and times of those living through the nightmare of the crude oil boom in North Dakota. Due to it’s GORGEOUS and informative interactive imagery, the Benicia Independent can only repost a small portion of this lengthy and immersive article. Get started here, then click on MORE. – RS]
The Downside of the Boom
North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances.
By DEBORAH SONTAG and ROBERT GEBELOFF NOV. 22, 2014
WILLISTON, N.D. — In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”
It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.
It was not the first or most catastrophic blowout visited by Mr. Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who became the wealthiest oilman in America and energy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Two years earlier, a towering derrick in Golden Valley County had erupted into flames and toppled, leaving three workers badly burned. “I was a human torch,” said the driller, Andrew J. Rohr.
Blowouts represent the riskiest failure in the oil business. Yet, despite these serious injuries and some 115,000 gallons spilled in those first 10 blowouts, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the drilling and production of oil and gas, did not penalize Continental until the 11th.
The commission — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — imposed a $75,000 penalty. Earlier this year, though, the commission, as it often does, suspended 90 percent of the fine, settling for $7,500 after Continental blamed “an irresponsible supervisor” — just as it had blamed Mr. Rohr and his crew, contract workers, for the blowout that left them traumatized.
Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.
In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.
For those who champion fossil fuels as the key to America’s energy independence, North Dakota is an unrivaled success, a place where fracking has provoked little of the divisive environmental debate that takes place elsewhere. Its state leaders rarely mention the underside of the boom and do not release even summary statistics about environmental incidents and enforcement measures.
Over the past nine months, using previously undisclosed and unanalyzed records, bolstered by scores of interviews in North Dakota, The Times has pieced together a detailed accounting of the industry’s environmental record and the state’s approach to managing the “carbon rush.”
The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.
“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”
North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.
State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.
Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”
Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.
One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.
Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)
The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry. State officials, who rarely discuss them publicly, sometimes use them to present a rosier image. Over the summer, speaking to farmers in the town of Antler, Lynn D. Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, announced “a little bit of good news”: The spill rate per well was “steady or down.” In fact, the rate has risen sharply since the early days of the boom.
Presented with The Times’s data analysis, and asked if the state was doing an effective job at preventing spills, Mr. Helms struck a more sober note. “We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not doing great.”
He noted it is a federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that regulates oil transmission pipelines. “You can’t use the spills P.H.M.S.A. was responsible for and conclude my approach to regulation is not working,” he said.
From The Bismarck Tribune, Bakken Breakout [An interesting analysis of the future of Bakken crude extraction from the perspective of an apparent oil industry advocate. They’re listening! – RS]
Getting it right
By Brian Kroshus, Publisher, September 17, 2014
Domestic oil production levels in the United States continue to rise – largely the result of the boom in shale oil drilling across the country. Notable plays like the Bakken shale in North Dakota and Permian and Eagle Ford shale in Texas, have been leading the way with more promising formations in different geographies, targeted for exploration and drilling in the years ahead.
Plays like the Bakken, Permian and Eagle Ford were actually in decline until only recently, having peaked decades ago when conventional, vertical wells were the only economically viable means of extracting crude. Now, those same plays are part of a drilling renaissance in key parts of the country. Geologists have known for years that more oil was present, trapped in source stone within the formations, but developing technology to profitably extract shale oil hasn’t come easy.
Today, oil production in the United States is surging thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. Drillers are not only better understanding the geology of shale formations, but technology necessary to economically drill and produce oil. Increasingly, they’re becoming more efficient. Still, only a small percentage resource is making its way to the surface presently. Undoubtedly, more will continue to be learned in the years ahead, ultimately leading to higher extraction percentage and proven reserves.
From an energy independence standpoint, the outlook for the United States is certainly promising. In October 2013, for the first time in nearly two decades, the United States produced more oil than it imported. Predictably, while there are those including the current administration attempting to take partial credit, rising output has been the result of drilling on state and private lands. On federal lands, production has actually declined during Pres. Barack Obama’s time in office according to the American Petroleum Institute.
Despite declines on federal ground, experts still predict that the United States could be fully energy independent by the end of this decade. According the EIA, U.S. oil production will rise to 11.6 million barrels per day in 2020, from 9.2 million in 2012, overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia and becoming the world’s largest oil producer. Over the same period, Saudi Arabia production levels are expected to decline from 11.7 million barrels to 10.6 million. Russia will also product less oil, falling from 10.7 million to 10.4 million barrels per day.
With a shale revolution and energy renaissance underway in the United States, there’s reason to be optimistic. Achieving energy independence appears to be within our grasp. Still, despite the prospect of becoming an energy independent nation, potential roadblocks loom.
In May, at the 2014 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources told convention attendees that “we can’t have any more issues.” He also said “It has to be done in an absolute, safe manner. It’s going to take all of us.” He was referring to recent problems related to Bakken crude including pipeline ruptures and the fiery train derailment near Casselton, North Dakota this past December.
There’s a lot at stake. Companies like Continental Resources and others, are expected to invest billions in the years ahead to fully develop plays like the Bakken. Drillers are keenly aware that it’s their game to lose. Hamm stressed, “If we have anything, they’re going to shut us down. So many people want to stop fossil fuel use and production.”
Despite the positive macroeconomic effects rising domestic oil production and decreased imports have on the U.S. economy, job creation and economic growth alone won’t guarantee that shale oil production will continue, unless it is deemed safe and not a threat to public safety during transportation of Bakken crude in particular.
Volatility levels of Bakken crude and implication on public safety, continues to be heavily debated. The Lac-Megantic, Quebec, rail tragedy, where 47 people lost their lives when a runaway train carrying tanker cars filled with Bakken formation crude, derailed and exploded in the heart of town has been at the center of that debate. The explosions were so intense, that approximately one-half of the downtown area was destroyed.
Understandably, safely transporting Bakken crude by rail throughout North America, knowing freight rail routes frequently pass through residential areas on their way to final destinations, is a top industry priority. Much of the focus has been and remains on the DOT-111 tank car. On July 23 the U.S. Department of Transportation announced comprehensive proposed rulemaking for the safe transportation of crude oil and flammable materials, with Bakken crude being mentioned – in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and a companion Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM).
The NPRM language includes “enhanced tank car standards, a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains that includes braking controls and speed restrictions.” Within two years, it proposes to “phase out of the older DOT-111 tank cars for the shipment of flammable liquids including Bakken crude oil, unless the tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards.” It also seeks “Better classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids.”
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has set a special hearing for September 23rd, as a part of the discussion on the volatility of Bakken crude and potential oil conditioning requirements necessary to safely transport oil from the Williston Basin. Reducing the light hydrocarbons present in Bakken crude would not only provide greater safety, but the standardization of Bakken crude into a class of oil much like West Texas Intermediate, possibly creating premium pricing opportunities.
NDPSC involvement and recommendations in addition to oil conditioning include heightened rail inspection efforts at the state level in addition to the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, and emergency response training. Working closely with federal officials and a heightened inspection process, will require additional resources moving forward.
Expanding pipeline capacity and reducing reliance on rail to transport Bakken crude will continue to be a growing need, playing a role in addressing public safety concerns. The North Dakota pipeline authority anticipates two new pipelines coming online before the end of 2016, with capacity for 545,000 barrels a day. Another third proposed pipeline, capable of handling an additional 200,000 barrels, could potentially be in operation by late 2016 or early 2017.
With daily production expected to reach 1.5 million barrels in 2017, and 1.7 million barrels in early 2020, diversifying how Bakken crude is moved to market will be necessary not only from a public safety standpoint, but in order to address logistically challenges that continue to surface as production levels increase.
Extracting domestic oil and gas, moving it to market and properly disposing of or using byproducts created during the production process in a safe and efficient manner will be necessary in order for plays like the Bakken to be fully capitalized on. Those opposed to fossil fuel production will continue to watch and patiently wait for any opportunity to pressure elected officials and sway public opinion.
Ensuring both public and environmental safety to ensure the future of domestic oil production – will require a cooperative effort on the part of both industry and the state. As Harold Hamm alludes to, it truly is industries game to lose.
Oil group wants highest-danger label for Bakken rail shipments
New York, Aug 5, 2014
Aug 5 (Reuters) – A U.S. oil industry group is recommending that all crude shipped by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken fields be labeled as the most-dangerous type of oil cargo, a designation that could hasten the use of new or upgraded tank cars.
On Monday, the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) released the final results of a wide-scale study on the quality characteristics of Bakken crude, which has been involved in several fiery oil-train derailments over the past year.
The study confirmed preliminary findings released in May suggesting that Bakken was little different from other forms of light, sweet U.S. crude and posed no greater threat versus other fuels when transported by rail.
The NDPC also issued a series of recommendations following the study, however, including one urging oil-by-rail shippers to classify all Bakken crude oil as “Packing Group I” hazardous materials.
That is the highest-risk level of a three-tiered danger assessment, and the NDPC said it was recommended “even though the majority of samples tested for the study would fall within specifications for PG (Packing Group) II.”
Current methods for testing boiling point, the key criteria for differentiating PG I and II classifications, can be inconsistent, the NDPC said. Because it typically contains a high proportion of very light hydrocarbons and petroleum gases, Bakken crude tends to boil at lower temperatures.
“The margin of error for the test methodology can result in different labs testing the same sample with values meeting both PGs. PG I has the more stringent standards and is therefore recommended to avoid further confusion,” said the NDPC report, which was prepared by industry consultants Turner, Mason & Co.
Historically the Packing Group label has made no material difference in how oil is handled on trains; its only purpose was to inform emergency responders about the cargo. The DOT-111 tank car, the model used almost exclusively to ship oil by rail, is able to transport any Packing Group. Many oil companies have been using PG I routinely simply to ensure they were compliant.
But under new regulations proposed last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Packing Group determination could become a pivotal factor in determining how quickly shippers use new or upgraded tank cars that will gradually replace older-model DOT-111s long seen as flawed.
The NDPC represents major producers in the Bakken including Marathon Oil Corp, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources and Hess.
Authorities had already begun to crack down on misclassified oil shipments after the Lac Megantic tragedy in Canada last year, when a runaway oil-train with cargo from the Bakken energy patch derailed and killed 47 people in the center of a Quebec town.
In February, the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) fined three companies for using incorrect Packing Group labels for their Bakken cargoes. Two of them had mislabeled shipments as PG II, when in fact they should have been labeled PG I. A third company had used a PG III label rather than PG II.
The DOT rules last month said older model DOT-111 cars would not be allowed to carry Packing Group I crudes within two years, while less dangerous crudes that fall into PGs II and III could still be shipped in the older cars for three and five years.
The rules are open to public comment and may not be finalized for several months.
In its own study released last month, the PHMSA said most crude from the Bakken tested as PG I or II material – “with a predominance to PG I”. It also said the oil was “more volatile than most other types of crude,” a finding disputed by both the American Petroleum Institute and NDPC.
(Reporting by Jonathan Leff; Editing by Tom Brown)