North Dakota Considers Requiring Treatment of Bakken Crude to reduce volatility

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

North Dakota Considers Requiring Treatment of Bakken Crude

Hearing Is Planned on Whether Shale Oil Should Be Made Less Volatile Before Transport
By Chester Dawson, August 10, 2014

North Dakota officials are considering requiring energy companies to treat the crude they pump from the Bakken Shale to make it less volatile before it is loaded onto trains.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission plans to hold a public hearing in the coming weeks on possible steps to reduce volatility at a well site before oil is stored or transported, said a spokeswoman for North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

The commission, the state’s chief energy regulator, is considering issuing new standards for treating crude as well as monitoring requirements, she said.

Several trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed since the summer of 2013, exploding violently and in one instance killing 47 people in Quebec.

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, light crude tapped from North Dakota shale is more combustible than many other grades of oil and, unlike in other places, seldom stabilized.

Production of this volatile oil through hydraulic fracturing has soared, accounting for most of the additional three million barrels a day of oil that the U.S. produces today compared with 2009. Much of that is shipped to refineries by railcars, especially crude produced in the Bakken where there are few oil pipelines.

Mr. Dalrymple, one of three members of the state commission, on Friday briefed visiting federal officials including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on proposals for treating Bakken crude oil in the field. The federal government has been weighing whether to require stabilization.
Energy executives point out that neither federal nor state regulations require crude to be stabilized before it is transported. Some say stabilization is unnecessary.

Most oil producers in North Dakota haven’t installed stabilizing equipment designed to reduce crude volatility, which is commonplace in similar shale oil fields such as the Eagle Ford formation in South Texas.

Stabilizers use heat and pressure to force light hydrocarbon molecules—including ethane, butane and propane—to boil out of the liquid crude. The operation lowers the vapor pressure of crude oil, making it less volatile and therefore safer to transport by pipeline or rail tank car.

—Russell Gold contributed to this article.