Tag Archives: Hess

Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

Repost from The Hawkeye, Burlington, Iowa

Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

By Kathleen Sloan, May 11, 2015

BNSF Railway carried the Hess Corp.-owned rail car, which carried highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and appears to have followed the law.

President Barack Obama weighed and rejected using executive authority to curb the transport of this explosive crude oil, rich in butane and propane, because he decided North Dakota state law should be the controlling authority. But the law North Dakota passed in December and went into effect just last month, only requires less than 13.7 pounds-per-square-inch vapor pressure inside the tanker, despite explosions at lower pressures.

That’s almost 40 percent more than the average vapor pressure among the 63 tanker cars that exploded July 6, 2013, at Lac-Megantic, Quebec. That disaster killed 47 people, some of whom could not be found because they were vaporized, and is driving recent federal and state rail car regulations.

According to an Albany, N.Y., Times Union investigation, the average vapor pressure among 72 tanker cars in the Lac-Megantic train was 10 psi.

Hess Corp. tested the crude just before loading at 10.8 psi, according to Associated Press reporters Matthew Brown and Blake Nicholson, in their follow-up story about the derailment at Heimdal, N.D.

While federal regulations only require flash point and boiling point to be measured, North Dakota now requires vapor pressure be measured. But measuring and labeling the danger does not make transporting it safe.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s two divisions, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, are the regulating authorities overseeing railway transport of crude oil. Generally, the FRA is responsible for train car and rail safety, while the PHMSA inspects the proper testing of the oil. That determines the oil’s proper classification and its proper “packaging” in pressurized cars and their labeling.

Other PHMSA duties include checking shipping documents to see if the shipper has self-certified the procedures properly as well as employee safety and handling training.

The U.S. DOT initiated “Operation Safe Delivery” in August 2013, in reaction to the Lac-Megantic incident, although the Bakken oil boom dates to 2008.

A federal rule-making process also began in August 2013. Those rules went into effect last week.

PHMSA, as part of Operation Safe Delivery, took several samples of Bakken crude oil from rail-loading facilities, storage tanks and pipelines used to load rail cars. Several also were collected from cargo tanks.

The first set of samples were taken August through November 2013 and the second set February through May 2014.

The first set showed psi vapor pressure among a dozen samples ranging from 7.7 psi to 11.75 psi.

A second set of 88 samples showed vapor pressure ranging from 10.1 psi to 15.1, with the average at about 12 psi.

Only six of the 88 samples were at or exceeded North Dakota’s 13.7 psi. This means shippers are not required to treat most of the crude generated from the Bakken oil formation before loading it onto cars.

The “Operation Safe Delivery Update,” available on the PHMSA website, also gives test results for propane, sulphur, hydrogen sulfide, methane and butane content.

The conclusions in the Operations Safe Delivery Update, which was not dated, are:

“Bakken crude’s high volatility level — a relative measure of a specific material’s tendency to vaporize — is indicated by tests concluding that it is a ‘light’ crude oil with a high gas content, a low flash point, a low boiling point and high vapor pressure …

“Given Bakken crude oil’s volatility, there is an increased risk of a significant incident involving this material due to the significant volume that is transported, the routes and the extremely long distances it is moving by rail… These trains often travel over a thousand miles from the Bakken region to refinery locations along the coasts…”

And although the report states, “PHMSA and FRA plan to continue … to work with the regulated community to ensure the safe transportation of crude oil across the nation,” the new rules that went into effect last week did nothing about regulating vapor pressure.

Instead, the rules phase out weaker and older pressurized tanker cars, the DOT-111, by 2020, and phase in CPC-1232 cars.

So far, at least four derailments of CPC-1232 cars carrying Bakken oil have exploded:

    • March 5 in Galena, Ill.;
    • Feb. 1 in Mount Carbon, W.Va.;
    • Feb. 15 near Timmons, Ontario; and
    • Last year in Lynchburg, Va.

Experts in various news articles and public comment submitted during the federal rule-making stated the way to make transport safe is to refine the crude before shipping. That would involve building refineries near the extraction point, which experts pointed out would be expensive.

In a Sept. 26, 2014, story, Railway Age contributing editor David Thomas applauded North Dakota for “using state jurisdiction over natural resources to fill the vacuum created by the federal government’s abdication of its constitutional responsibility for rail safety and hazardous materials.”

But Thomas admitted the state law on crude treatment would reduce the danger only slightly.

“Simply put, North Dakotan crude will have to be lightly pressure-cooked to boil off a fraction of the volatile ‘light ends’ before shipment,” Thomas said. “This conditioning lowers the ignition temperature of crude oil — but not by much. It leaves in solution most of the culprit gases, including butane and propane. Even the industry itself says conditioning would not make Bakken crude meaningfully safer for transportation, though it would make the state’s crude more consistent from one well to another.”

“The only solution for safety is stabilization, which evaporates and re-liquifies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners,” Thomas said.

He points out owners and shippers in the Eagle Fork formation in Texas, voluntarily stabilize their crude before shipping. It’s more volatile than Bakken crude.

“So far, stabilized Eagle Fork crude has been transported by tank car as far away as Quebec City, without the fireballs that have plagued the shipment of unstabilized Bakken crude,” Thomas said. “The Texan gases are liquefied and piped underground to the state’s Gulf Coast petrochemical complex for processing and sale.”

Keeping the volatile gases in solution during shipping, while dangerous, is profitable.

Thomas said North Dakota has no nearby petrochemical plants, which “explains the oil industry’s collective decision not to extract the otherwise commercially valuable gases from North Dakota crude oil. Instead, most of the explosive gases remain dissolved in the unstabilized Bakken oil for extraction after delivery to distant refineries.”

The PHMSA, however, requires butane and propane be removed from the crude before it is injected into pipelines, Thomas said.

Comments to the federal rule-making pointed out Bakken oil is made more dangerous still by corrosive chemicals used in the fracking process. The crude is further treated with chemicals to make the molasses-like consistency easier to pump.

Severe corrosion to the inner surface of the tanker cars, manway covers, valves and fittings have been recorded in various incidents, commentators said.

The lack of federal regulations is not the only problem. Enforcement is minimal because there are only 56 inspectors, according to PHMSA spokesman Gordon Delcambre.

Ten of those have been assigned to the North Dakota Bakken oil formation region, he said.

In the PHMSA 2013 annual enforcement report, 151 cases were prosecuted and 312 civil penalty tickets were issued, resulting in $1.87 million in fines. The largest fine was $120,200.

The report did not mention what the hazardous material was in 173 of the 463 enforcement actions.

Only one enforcement action appeared to result from an inspection of “fuel oil” transport, which resulted in a $975 fine for incorrect “packaging” and failure to prove, through documents, employees had been given the required safety and hazardous material handling training.

According to BNSF Railway’s report to the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management, required by a U.S. DOT emergency order since May 2014, a range of zero-to-six trains carrying at least 1 million gallons (30,000 gallons per car or about 35 cars or more) pass through Burlington each week.

Share...

    Oil industry recommends: use “highest-danger” labeling on bakken oil tank cars

    Repost from Reuters
    [Editor: The oil industry recommends highest-danger labeling on Bakken crude oil tank cars despite its misleading claim that Bakken is no different from other light sweet crudes.  This stance puts pressure on the rail industry to come up with stronger tank cars sooner.  Um… follow the money?  – RS]

    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.

    [Editor: To send a comment, see Two-month comment period starts for new federal oil train rules. -RS]

    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)
    Share...