The North Dakota Petroleum Council has released their final study into the volatility of Bakken crude oil. With environmental activists in North Dakota and elsewhere referring to trains hauling Bakken crude as “bomb trains,” this is a pretty important issue.
“This study provides the most thorough and comprehensive analysis of crude oil quality from a tight oil production basin to date,” said John Auers, executive vice president of Turner, Mason & Company, the engineering firm commissioned to conduct the study. “The study provides conclusive and consistent scientific data about Bakken crude that will help regulators, operators, shippers and other key stake holders properly classify and monitor Bakken crude in the future.”
There was a preliminary finding released back in May which held that Bakken crude is well within federal guidelines, and the final study (which you can read in its entirety below) backs up that initial finding.
“All of this data does not support the speculation that Bakken crude is more volatile or flammable than other light, sweet crudes,” Kari Cutting, Vice President of the NDPC, said in their press release announcing the study. “We look forward to using this information to continue our work with regulators and rail companies to develop and implement standards that will ensure all flammable liquids, particularly crude oils that are safely transported by rail.”
I’m not enough of an expert to read this study and conclude whether its findings are sound or not (plus, it’s an industry-backed study, so you have to take it with a grain of salt). I will say that I’m not sure how much this sort of thing is going to move public opinion.
You can cite all the studies you want about the relative volatility of Bakken oil, but as long as Americans have images of explosive train derailments in their heads (like the one in Casselton last year), they probably aren’t going to be swayed.
Whether the oil industry likes it or not, North Dakota seems likely to get some new regulations on conditioning Bakken crude oil before shipment. ““We do want to be sure that we understand the conditioning that’s required and is meant to be taking place in North Dakota,” Governor Jack Dalrymple told Petroleum News earlier this month. “What steps do we have to take to begin to monitor and basically regulate that, oversee it? We assume (operators) are doing conditioning but we have no mechanism to verify that.”
It’s well past time to start verifying.