PHMSA Safety Alert on Bakken Crude Oil

In the wake of hazardous situation emerged at Bakken region, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has warned the dangerous goods transporters, emergency responders and the general public that the crude oil from Bakken shale bears an unprecedentedly higher flammability than traditional heavy crude oil. It is very likely, as this safety alert notes, that if any additional hazards in Bakken crude oil are discovered upon completion of investigation, it may affect the classification and packaging for crude oil shipments.

Reiteration for safe transportation

Responding to the safety concerns arising out of the recent derailments and explosions in North Dakota, Alabama, and Lac-Megantic, Quebec from Bakken-sourced oil shipments, PHMSA has reiterated safety measures for crude oil transportation. These safety measures when complying with 49 CFR 173.22 require proper testing, characterization, classification and where necessary, degasifying dangerous goods before and in the course of transportation. Since characterization of the potential hazards is must, it would be binding for Bakken based shippers to describe the corrosivity, sulfur content and dissolved gas contents of crude oil accurately. PHMSA has also reinforced the significance of apt classification and adequate packaging group assignment for crude oil shipments when transporting through cargo tanks, rail tank car or other modes.

Assigning PG

Though, Packing Group (PG) I or II is commonly assigned to Bakken crude oil but the hazardous materials assigned to either PG should hinge upon their flashpoints and the boiling points. It is worthy to mention that crude oil from Bakken region has a lower flash point than for typical heavy crude oil.

Compliance Initiative

Since the federal investigation against the rising incidents of non-compliance for Bakken shale is already in the pipeline, a compliance initiative “Operation Classification” has already taken effect after the combined efforts of PHMSA and FRA. This involves unexpected inspections and random sampling of crude oil from different shipping and packaging locations to check whether the shipments are properly classified, characterized and assigned to adequate packing group. Even, they can add further checks in this compliance pursuit. Based on preliminary observations from these inspections and sampling, PHMSA has added further lab tests, such as Reid Vapor Pressure, Corrosivity, Hydrogen Sulfide Content, and Concentration of the Entrained Gases in the hazardous material. The lab reports for these tests, when available, will have implications for dangerous goods shippers and carriers in future.

Exploding moments from Bakken

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt (right) views damaged rail cars in Casselton, N.D. A BNSF Railway train derailed and exploded Monday afternoon near the eastern North Dakota town of Casselton. NTSB/Associated Press

Smoke rises from derailed oil train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013. Photo: WBMA via Reuters

Smoke rises in the distance as firefighters block a highway leading to an area where a train derailed, in the small town of Gainford, Alberta west of Edmonton October 19, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Dan Riedlhuber

Lac-Mégantic explosion aftermath; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons