Two studies: Bakken crude by rail – safety and volatility

[Editor: The following studies were recommended to me by a neighbor who supports Valero’s crude by rail proposal.  Both are loaded with valuable information, useful to anyone who wants facts to back up an argument for or against Valero’s project.  You can download the document by clicking on the green text.   Thanks, neighbor!  – RS] 

Center for Strategic and International Studies –
Safety of Crude Oil by Rail

By David Pumphrey, Lisa Hyland, and Michelle Melton, March, 2014


In the last several years, rail has come to play an important role in the transportation of growing U.S. crude oil production. Over the last seven months, a number of serious accidents have resulted in intense review of the safety of shipping large quantities of oil by rail. The focus has been on classification of the oil, the integrity of tank cars, and rail operations. Regulatory processes have been initiated to attempt to deal with these issues in a timely manner. This issue analysis provides facts that illuminate the players, concerns, current status of regulatory action, as well as the potential issues going forward.

Further regulation of crude by rail is a near certainty, but the ultimate scope and pace remains unclear. Whether regulatory action actually slows down what has become a burgeoning transportation option for crude oil producers and refiners is an open question. It is increasingly unlikely that regulatory action—unless truly drastic—will stop shipment of crude by rail. However, moving forward, regulatory action such as phasing out older tank cars, rerouting trains, or imposing stringent requirements for testing, could impact the economics of crude by rail.   [MORE – a 9-page report in PDF format]

Congressional Research Service –
CRS Report – Crude Oil Properties Relevant to Rail Transport Safety

by Anthony Andrews, Specialist in Energy Policy, February 18, 2014


The dramatic increase in U.S. crude oil production, coupled with the increase in crude oil transport by rail, has raised questions about whether properties (e.g., flammability) of these crude types—particularly Bakken crude oil from North Dakota—differ sufficiently from other crude oils to warrant any additional handling considerations. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Safety Alert to notify emergency responders, shippers, carriers, and the public that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil transported from the Bakken region of North Dakota may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. The alert reminds emergency responders that light sweet crude oil, such as that coming from the Bakken region, pose significant fire risk if released from the package (tank car) in an accident. PHMSA has expanded the scope of lab testing to include other factors that affect proper characterization and classification of crude oil such as volatility, corrosivity, hydrogen sulfide content and composition/concentration of the entrained gases in the material.

All crude oils are flammable, to a varying degree. Further, crude oils exhibit other potentially hazardous characteristics as well. The growing perception is that light volatile crude oil, like Bakken crude, is a root cause for catastrophic incidents and thus may be too hazardous to ship by rail. However, equally hazardous and flammable liquids from other sources are routinely transported by rail, tanker truck, barge, and pipeline, though not without accident.

A key question for Congress is whether the characteristics of Bakken crude oil make it particularly hazardous to ship by rail, or are there other causes of transport incidents, such as poor maintenance practices, inadequate safety standards, or human error.  [MORE – a 13-page report in PDF format]