Tag Archives: North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources

Montana county has had 5 derailments in two years

Repost from The Dickinson Press

Montana county has had 5 derailments in two years

By Amy Dalrymple on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:22 p.m.
An investigator takes photos at the site of a crude oil train derailment on Saturday, July 18 east of Culbertson, Mont. Twenty-two oil tankers derailed, leaking an estimated 35,000 gallons of oil. (FNS Photo by Amy Dalrymple)

CULBERTSON, Mont. — Five train derailments have occurred in less than two years in the northeastern Montana County where crews continue cleaning up after last week’s oil train derailment.

In addition to the two train derailments that occurred last week within a 20-mile stretch of Roosevelt County, two railcars also derailed at Culbertson in February, according to the Federal Railroad Administration database, which is updated through April.

The cause of that incident, which did not cause injuries or release of hazardous material, was attributed to human error, according to information submitted to the FRA.

The area also had two train derailments in 2014, including the derailment of two Amtrak cars in April of that year in the neighboring community of Bainville.

Two people were hurt in the derailment, which caused more than $100,000 in damage to Amtrak equipment and nearly $500,000 in damage to the track, the FRA database shows.

The cause that derailment is listed as “track roadbed settled or soft,” according to information submitted to the FRA.

The other 2014 incident, which involved one railcar that derailed in December at Culbertson, was attributed to a broken wheel, the FRA database shows.

The entire state of Montana had 19 train derailments in 2014, the FRA information shows.

Last Tuesday, nine railcars derailed near Blair, Mont., damaging about 1 mile of track. The cause remains under investigation.

BNSF Railway inspects the track in that area at least four times per week, spokesman Matt Jones said.

The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration continued collecting evidence Monday to investigate the cause of Thursday’s derailment involving 22 oil tankers. Four of the derailed tank cars leaked oil, the FRA said, and spilled an estimated 35,000 gallons of oil.

The train was not speeding at the time it derailed, an FRA spokesman said. It was traveling 44 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone, the spokesman said.

BNSF environmental specialists continue to clean up at the site. Oil will be removed from the remaining tank cars in the next several days, and the cars will be removed after that, Jones said.

Crews are excavating contaminated soil, said Daniel Kenney, enforcement specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is monitoring the cleanup. The spill was not reported to have contaminated any water sources and has not threatened human health, Kenney said.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources confirmed Monday that Statoil, the company that owns the oil that was on the train, is in compliance with the state’s oil conditioning order.

The order, which took effect in April, aims to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil.

Statoil was meeting the order by operating its equipment at specific temperatures and pressures, said Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter. Companies also can comply by submitting vapor pressure tests to the state.

The train with was loaded by Savage Services in Trenton, N.D., and headed to Anacortes, Wash., the FRA said.

Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Savage Services, said Monday the railcar inspection protocols at the Trenton terminal are consistent with FRA and BNSF requirements.

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    New vapor pressure rule in North Dakota fails to account for additional explosion risks

    Repost from Reuters
    [Editor:  Reference below is to an important new Energy Department study on the volatility of Bakken crude.  – RS]

    North Dakota’s new oil train safety checks seen missing risks

    By Patrick Rucker, Mar 31, 2015 4:14pm EDT

    WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) – New regulations to cap vapor pressure of North Dakota crude fail to account for how it behaves in transit, according to industry experts, raising doubts about whether the state’s much-anticipated rules will make oil train shipments safer.

    High vapor pressure has been identified as a possible factor in the fireball explosions witnessed after oil train derailments in Illinois and West Virginia in recent weeks.

    For over a year, federal officials have warned that crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oilfields contains a cocktail of explosive gas – known in the industry as ‘light ends.’

    The new rules, which take effect on April 1, aim to contain dangers by spot-checking the vapor pressure of crude before loading and capping it at 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi) – about normal atmospheric conditions.

    The plan relies on a widely-used test for measuring pressure at the wellhead, but safety experts say gas levels can climb inside the nearly-full tankers, so the checks are a poor indicator of explosion risks for rail shipments.

    It is “well-understood, basic physics” that crude oil will exert more pressure in a full container than in the test conditions North Dakota will use, said Dennis Sutton, executive director of the Crude Oil Quality Association, which studies how to safely handle fossil fuels.

    Ametek Inc, a leading manufacturer of testing equipment, has detected vapor pressure climbing from about 9 psi to over 30 psi – more than twice the new limit – while an oil tank is filled to near-capacity.

    About 70 percent of the roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil produced in North Dakota every day moves by rail to distant refineries and passes through hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

    The state controls matter to those communities because there is no federal standard to curb explosive gases in oil trains.

    North Dakota officials point out that the pressure limit is more stringent than the industry-accepted definition of “stable” crude oil. They also say that they lack jurisdiction over tank cars leaving the state and that the pressure tests are just one of the measures to make oil trains safer.

    “We’re trying to achieve a set of operating practices that generates a safe, reliable crude oil,” Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, has said. Helms has also said that test readings for near-full containers were less reliable.

    However, given different testing and transport conditions, industry officials say the pressure threshold may need to be lowered to reduce the risks.

    Limiting vapor pressure to 13.7 psi in transit would require an operator to bring it to “something well below that” at the loading point, Sutton said.

    The uncertainty about regulatory reach and safety has spurred calls for the White House to develop national standards to control explosive gas pressure.

    “Let me be really clear,” Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state told reporters last week. “They should set a standard on volatility.”

    The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent safety agency, has already encouraged a federal standard for “setting vapor pressure thresholds” for oil trains citing Canadian findings linking such pressure and the size of explosions in train accidents.

    Meanwhile, a leading voice for the oil industry is lobbying Congress to resist federal vapor pressure benchmarks.

    Last week, the American Petroleum Institute urged lawmakers to oppose “a national volatility standard” and pointed to an Energy Department study that the severity of an oil train mishap may have more to do with the circumstances of the crash than the volatility of the cargo.

    That same report said much more study was needed to understand volatility of crude oil from the Bakken. (For a link to the study: tinyurl.com/nvjqmxt)

    The oil industry has said that wringing ‘light ends’ out of Bakken crude may keep a share of valuable fuel from reaching refineries.

    Reuters reported early this month that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx took his concerns about Bakken oil volatility to the White House last summer and sought advice on what to do about the danger of explosive gases.

    The administration decided that rather than assert federal authority it would allow the North Dakota rules to take root, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

    (Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Bernard Orr)
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      MN Public Radio: Critics press industry to make Bakken oil safer

      Repost from Minnesota Public Radio, MPR.org/100.5 FM

      Critics press industry to make Bakken oil safer

      By Dan Gunderson, Mar 29, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.
      WillistonND_AndrewBurtonGetty500
      Oil containers sat at a train depot outside Williston, North Dakota. Andrew Burton | Getty Images 2013

      MPR_Gunderson_Bakken_audio
      MOORHEAD, Minn. — North Dakota environmentalists want oil companies to reduce volatile gasses in Bakken crude. Regulators, however, say they’re taking a different tack that’s cheaper for the industry and still improves safety.

      The gasses remain a flashpoint for producers, environmental and safety groups concerned about transporting the highly flammable Bakken crude. Oil train shipments from the Bakken have skyrocketed in recent years, heightening the worries.

      Environmental groups have been pushing the state to require that producers install equipment to stabilize the crude using a process that heats the oil to a higher temperature to release more gasses.

      North Dakota officials, however, say the more stringent heating requirement would cost oil companies as much as $2 per barrel.

      Instead, state inspectors starting April 1 will check oil at well sites to make sure the vapor pressure runs no greater than 13.7 pounds per square inch of Reid Vapor Pressure, the measurement standard of volatile gases in crude oil. Oil involved in a recent West Virginia derailment and explosion had a vapor pressure slightly higher, 13.9 psi.

      The North Dakota standard is tougher than the 14.7 psi federal standard for crude oil, although it’s still more volatile than gasoline sold in Minnesota in the summer, which has a maximum vapor pressure of 9.

      Regulators say their method will maintain safety but cost an estimated 10 cents a barrel, compared to the $2 per barrel for the stabilization gas removal process. Companies found violating the new regulation can be fined $12,500 per day.

      The industry disputes that Bakken crude is more volatile, but says most North Dakota crude meets the new standard already.

      “I think a lot of people have wondered, well, is this going to cure the problem. And our answer is that by itself, it is not the cure,” said Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources.

      The new, lower vapor standard is a step in the right direction but safer rail cars are also a critical part of the solution, Helms added. The federal government is considering new rules for safer tank cars that might include thicker steel shells and larger pressure relief valves.

      “If you combine our lower vapor pressure standard with the these high capacity relief valves we should be able to get away from these boiling liquid explosive vapor incidents which create the large explosions if and when we have a derailment,” Helms added.

      Larger relief valves could allow rapidly expanding gases to escape, preventing rail tank cars from exploding. But critics point out those volatile gases could still catch fire. A newer tank car with improved safety features, the CPC 1232, has been involved in at least two recent oil train derailment and explosion incidents.

      Environmentalists argue North Dakota could make the oil much safer.

      “The bottom line profitability of the oil industry is trumping all the rest of us, our safety,” said Don Morrison with the North Dakota environmental group Dakota Resource Council.

      Much of the light crude oil in Texas is stabilized before it’s shipped, he added. “To stabilize the oil so it is safer like they do in Texas, oil companies are going to have to spend some money. That is true. But isn’t that the cost of doing business?”

      The North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents the oil industry, did not respond to an interview request.

      In December 2013, the potential for disaster became very real after train cars of Bakken oil derailed, caught fire and exploded outside Casselton, N.D., near the Minnesota state line. Derailments and fires involving Bakken crude since then have heightened the worry.

      Fred Millar, a Washington-based lobbyist and consultant on hazardous materials transportation, contends the new North Dakota standards would not have changed the outcome of a deadly 2013 oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec in Canada.

      Train cars of Bakken crude involved in the Lac Megantic explosion and fire had a vapor pressure of about 9 psi, according to Canadian investigators.

      A search of public records and news reports identified 14 derailments involving crude oil trains in the past two years in North America. Fire was involved in nine of the accidents.

      New regulations are unlikely to stop crude oil train accidents, Millar said.

      “Anybody who’s kind of hoping that somehow there’s going to be this magic bullet or some new set of federal regulations that’s going to make this situation safe,” he said, “I have bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”

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        Maclean’s: So it turns out Bakken oil is explosive after all

        Repost from Maclean’s Magazine

        So it turns out Bakken oil is explosive after all

        Producers in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields have been told to make crude is safer before being shipped by rail
        By Chris Sorensen, December 10, 2014

        Oil TrainsAfter years of insisting oil sucked from North Dakota’s Bakken shale wasn’t inherently dangerous, producers have been ordered to purge the light, sweet crude of highly flammable substances before loading it on railcars and shipping it through towns and cities across the continent.

        State regulators said this week that the region’s crude will first need to be treated, using heat or pressure, to remove more volatile liquids and gases. The idea, according to North Dakota’s Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, wasn’t to render the oil incapable of being ignited, but merely more stable in preparation for transport.

        It’s the latest regulatory response to a frightening series of fiery train crashes that stretches back to the summer of 2013. That’s when a runaway train laden with Bakken crude jumped the tracks in Lac-Mégantic, Que., and killed 47 people in a giant fireball. In the accident’s immediate aftermath, many experts struggled to understand how a train full of crude oil could ignite so quickly and violently. It had never happened before.

        Subsequent studies have shown that Bakken crude, squeezed from shale rock under high pressure through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” can indeed have a high gas content and vapour pressure, as well as lower flash and boiling points. However, there remains disagreement about whether the levels are unusual for oil extracted from shale, and whether the classifications for shipping it should be changed.

        Still, with more than one million barrels of oil being moved by rail from the region each day, regulators have decided to err on the side of caution and implement additional safety measures. For producers, that means buying new equipment that can boil off propane, butane and other volatile natural gases. Under the new rules, the Bakken crude will not be allowed to have a vapour pressure greater than 13.7 lb. per square inch, about the same as for standard automobile gasoline. Regulators estimate that about 80 per cent of Bakken oil already meets these requirements.

        The industry isn’t pleased. It continues to argue that Bakken oil is no more dangerous than other forms of light, sweet crude, and is, therefore, being unfairly singled out. It has also warned that removing volatile liquids and gasses from Bakken crude would result in the creation of a highly concentrated, highly volatile product that would still have to be shipped by rail—not to mention additional greenhouse-gas emissions. It goes without saying that meeting the new rules will also cost producers money—at a time when oil prices are falling.

        In the meantime, regulators on both sides of the border are taking steps to boost rail safety by focusing on lower speed limits, new brake requirements and plans to phase out older, puncture-prone oil tank cars. Earlier this year, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Canada would be “leading the continent” on the phase-out of older DOT-111 tank cars, which have been linked to fiery crashes going back 25 years. There are about 65,000 of the cars in service in North America, about a third of which can be found in Canada.

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