Federal agency issues safety alert on Bakken crude
A federal agency issued a safety alert Thursday on Bakken crude oil, warning emergency responders, the public and others that the light, sweet crude may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.
The safety alert from the the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration stems from preliminary inspections conducted after Monday’s derailment and fire in Casselton, N.D., as well as derailments in Alabama and Quebec.
Those investigations have prompted the agency to reinforce the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify and degasify hazardous materials prior to shipping, the agency says.
The alert advises emergency responders that Bakken crude poses a significant fire risk if released in an accident.
North Dakota produces nearly a million barrels of crude oil per day with about 70 percent of that transported by rail. About 10 unit trains, each with about 100 cars loaded with crude oil, leaves the state per day, the North Dakota Pipeline Authority says.
On Monday, an eastbound BNSF train carrying crude oil struck a westbound train’s derailed car filled with soybeans Monday afternoon near Casselton, about 20 miles west of Fargo.
The collision prompted explosions and a massive fireball that led officials to ask for the voluntary evacuation of the town.
Investigators from National Transportation Board remain on scene, and were scheduled to begin interviewing crew members Thursday.
BNSF reopened the tracks around 3 a.m. Thursday.
The safety alert from PHMSA says it’s imperative that the hazardous material is properly classified.
“Proper characterization will identify properties that could affect the integrity of the packaging or present additional hazards, such as corrosivity, sulfur content, and dissolved gas content,” the agency says in its alert.
PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration are working on “Operation Classification,” also known as the Bakken Blitz, to do unannounced inspections and testing of crude oil samples to verify that the oil from the Bakken formation, primarily in western North Dakota, has been properly classified.
“PHMSA expects to have final test results in the near future for the gas content, corrosivity, toxicity, flammability and certain other characteristics of the Bakken crude oil, which should more clearly inform the proper characterization of the material,” the agency says.
In Monday’s derailment, oil cars burst into flame after the collision.
The North Dakota Department of Health is waiting to get an estimate of how much oil was spilled or burned away, said Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section.
Because the ground was frozen, officials don’t believe oil caused any subsurface contamination, but that will be reevaluated in the spring, Glatt said.
BNSF will be responsible for cleaning up some contaminated soil, under the supervision of health department officials.
BNSF also will be required to take some soil borings outside of the immediate spill area to make sure there is no impact on groundwater, Glatt said.
“I don’t think there is, but we just need to verify with some samples,” he said.