As reported recently in The Bakken magazine, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Christopher Hart confirmed on North Dakotan radio something the oil industry has always known: Bakken crude is not any more volatile than other crude oil.
Speaking on Fargo radio station KFGO-AM, Hart said that NTSB investigations of crude by rail accidents have shown that volatility is not the key issue in the incidents that have resulted in fires – but volume is.
Hart told KFGO, “The biggest contributor to a large explosion or fire is how much product is released, rather than the volatility of the product.” The Bakken reported that these comments were based on the NTSB’s investigation of a train derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, in 2013.
The investigation found that a broken axle on a westbound train hauling grain caused it to derail, which was then hit by an eastbound crude by rail train. The collision resulted in approximately 500,000 gallons of oil being spilled, which resulted in a fire and explosions.
The vapor pressure of the oil on board measured 13.9 pounds per square inch (psi), a negligible 0.2 psi above an oil conditioning limit imposed by the North Dakotan authorities in April this year – and well within the national 14.7 psi threshold for transporting flammable liquids.
Hart’s comments follow the testimony of then-PHMSA Deputy Administrator Timothy Butters before Congress on September 9, 2014, in which he said that PHMSA’s own tests concluded Bakken crude was “within the norm for light crude oils,” and consistent with AFPM’s own Bakken crude survey.
When all the facts are considered, the volatility of the Bakken crude is clearly not the issue. The issue is avoiding derailments by ensuring the trains stay on the tracks.