U.S. Transportation Dept. Says Energy Companies Not Sharing Test
Data on Bakken Oil
Government Is Seeking Data on the Crude After a Series of
Railroad Accidents in Which Oil Exploded
Wall Street Journal
2 May 2014
By Russell Gold
Most energy companies operating in North Dakota's Bakken Shale
haven't provided safety regulators with the requested testing data
on crude oil they ship by rail across the country, the U.S.
Transportation Department said Friday.
The department has been seeking the information since January as
it investigates the severity of fires and explosions in recent
oil-train derailments, including one Wednesday in Lynchburg, Va.,
which sent flames 100 feet in the air and forced the evacuation of
a large part of the downtown.
Only three companies have voluntarily shared data on the physical
characteristics of crude, including its volatility and
flammability, from the booming Bakken oil field, the department
said. At least 40 companies are pumping oil there, and a dozen
more operate rail-loading facilities.
The three companies that turned over data were Exxon Mobil Corp. ,
Continental Resources Inc. and Savage Services Corp., the
government said. It didn't disclose the test results.
In a statement, the agency suggested it might take steps to compel
companies to submit data. "All options remain on the table as we
do everything we can to ensure the safe transportation of crude
oil," it said.
The federal government and the oil industry have been sparring
about the nature of Bakken crude, which regulators suspect is more
combustible than crude pumped in other areas, and whether existing
tanker cars are strong enough to safely carry it.
Late last month, the government sent a letter to all crude
producers in the region asking for data on the "variability and
flammability of Bakken crude oil."
In January, the department said the American Petroleum Institute,
which represents oil companies, had agreed to share testing data;
API said it didn't have the information itself but had encouraged
companies to turn over their data.
API spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel said Friday the testing samples
that have been turned over to the government "have illustrated
there is no comparable difference between Bakken and other
Shipments of crude oil by rail have soared in the past few years
as companies in North Dakota and Texas use tank cars to move oil
to coastal refineries. At first seen as a temporary replacement
for pipelines, crude by rail isn't increasingly viewed by the
energy industry as a permanent part of its logistics chain.
This shift has led to increased regulatory concerns about whether
the tank cars are durable enough in crashes. Last summer, a train
full of Bakken crude derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47
people. Subsequent crashes in Alabama and North Dakota produced
enormous fireballs, prompting even some in the oil industry to
wonder why the crude was so volatile.
Canadian investigators said the crude that exploded in Quebec was
as volatile as gasoline. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier
this year that Bakken crude has several times the amount of
combustible gases as oil from elsewhere.
The federal government is expected to release results of its own
testing soon. And API, the industry group, said it was working
with the North Dakota Petroleum Council on a comprehensive
analysis of Bakken crude.
Write to Russell Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org