Surprise: Oil Volatility Probably Not A Significant Factor In Explosive Train Derailments


Anti-fossil fuel political activists have been trying to leverage headlines about oil train derailments into support for, well, any policy they can think of to inhibit the production and transportation of oil.

Among their talking points is the idea that some crude oil – particularly the light, sweet crude produced in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields – is inherently dangerous. They’ve been making a lot of noise about “blast zones” around rail lines. They’ve taken to calling the oil trans “bomb trans.” They were even somewhat successful here in North Dakota, pressuring the typically more circumspect North Dakota Industrial Commission into issuing new conditioning regulations.

But now it seems that oil volatility may not be a factor – or, at least, not the factor – that determines the danger of an oil train derailment.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart is saying that oil volatility is not a significant factor:

“If it derails and the product is released, our accident experience has shown that the biggest contributor to a large explosion or fire is how much product is released rather than that volatility of the product,” Hart told Fargo radio station KFGO.

Treseder said findings by the Department of Transportation, Department of Energy and Federal Railroad Administration seem to point to the same conclusion. She said DOT officials told federal lawmakers that the vapor pressure of Bakken crude was “not outside the norm” for light crude oils.

“This wasn’t a surprise for anyone in the oil and gas industry, but having it said on the record in front of Congress was a step in the right direction, I think, for informing many other parities,” she told oil company officials.

Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry is now operating under onerous new conditioning requirements that may not actually be making much of a difference in terms of the safety of oil by rail shipments. All because regulators seem to have caved to extreme environmental activism.

That’s something to keep in mind going forward. Most of the loudest environmental activists aren’t out to make fossil fuel energy development safer.

In related news, despite political opposition from the left up to and including President Barack Obama, pipelines are getting built and taking oil off the tracks, though more is needed:

North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad told oil company officials at the meeting that rail shipments are down to 47 percent of the oil moved out of state, compared to a high of 75 percent two years ago.

Kringstad said it will be until late 2016 or into 2017 before further pipeline projects are completed, so the amount of oil shipped by rail is not likely to change. He added that there’s no way to get oil to the West Coast other than by rail.

Good news, but more is needed.