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Bakken crude and train derailments: Ever tried wrapping a scalpel in a bubble pack?

Approving the XL pipeline is the best way to ensure against another train derailment disaster the magnitude of Lac Megantic, argues Roger McKnight, senior petroleum analyst with En-Pro International Inc.



Approving the XL pipeline is the best way to ensure against another train derailment disaster the magnitude of Lac Megantic, argues Roger McKnight, senior petroleum analyst with En-Pro International Inc.

“There have been five derailments in the last seven months,” points out McKnight in his weekly Energy Report. “The resultant fires are due to the fact that Bakken crude is more volatile than other crudes because of its lower viscosity; but more importantly its higher concentration of dissolved gases including hydrogen sulphide. The Bakken loaded at the well head can sit in a tank car for four to five days, and these gases separate out making a mile long crude train a bomb on wheels.”

 McKnight, who has 25 years in the oil industry and is a regular guest on radio and television programs has signed on to blog on energy-related issues for www.trucknews.com, sister publication of Canadian Shipper.

Included below is his full editorial on why the US should approve the XL pipeline:

 Trying to make sense out of the intricacies of today’s politically-riddled-energy-market is like trying to come up with a billion dollar ad slogan – a one-liner about a service or product that people will resonate with, and more importantly, buy into. You remember: “Where’s the beef?!” – Wendy’s; “We try harder” – Avis. And permanently lodged in my memory forever is the commercial where the actor, having a ‘eureka moment,’ slaps the heel of his hand against his head and yells, “Wow! I could have had a V- 8!”

 We are now reaching the point where politicians on both sides of the border better start reaching for some V-8 before they get whacked on the side of the head with a ballot box and the unforgiving media.

 Long the target of presidential ‘tuts,’ and to the gleeful tittering of his loyal Ewacks, the XL pipeline remains a pipe with no line. Crude oil production is ramping up in the voter intensive Shale Oil states and the, we-love-you-too-Neil, Oil Sands. Out of sheer frustration, Bakken and WCS crudes are moving by rail, the results of which are unnerving.

 There have been five derailments in the last seven months.

 The resultant fires are due to the fact that Bakken crude is more volatile than other crudes because of its lower viscosity; but more importantly its higher concentration of dissolved gases including hydrogen sulphide. The Bakken loaded at the well head can sit in a tank car for four to five days, and these gases separate out making a mile long crude train a bomb on wheels. 

Unlike pipelines, crude trains have more flexibility in delivery routes so the crude can move to the best priced market. This does mean however, that 50,000 barrels of highly volatile crude could be rolling through Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, St Louis or Houston several times a day, 365-days-a-year.

 This has the railroad agencies and politicians on both sides of the border scrambling for preemptive excuses.

 Ever tried wrapping a scalpel in a bubble pack?

 There is no quick fix to this situation despite the dissertations to the contrary by the rail road associations. You can’t hide from the fact that 85% of the 93,000 tank cars in the U.S. are the DOT-111 models, which have been the subject of all of the derailments, spills and fires over the last seven months including the Lac Megantic disaster.

 As I see it, the problem is not the tank cars 100% of the time; but to a major extent it’s plain and simply human error and lack of maintenance; to say nothing of foresight by both the railways and the various government agencies.

 Upgrading or replacing the DOT-111 tank cars will take years, so a disaster in a highly populated city is just waiting in the wings. We would not be in this position if the oil companies had not been forced to the logical rail alternative as opposed to the less costly, safer and environmentally pacific pipeline supply conduit.

 Before reading his State of the Union speech, I suggest President Obama watch this video of the latest North Dakota Bakken derailment: http://tinyurl.com/lfuw6x4 (December 30, 2013 courtesy: CBSNews.com)

 Here’s your pipeline on wheels. Pictures forebode a thousand votes and could save thousands of lives with the right decision.

 Approve the XL.

 Back again to the billion-dollar-slogans – and to parrot the Nike ad: “Just do it.”

 Roger McKnight is the senior petroleum analyst with En-Pro International. He has more than 25 years experience in the oil industry and has held senior marketing management positions responsible for national and international accounts. He has established pricing of all fuels to major consumers in the transportation and manufacturing sectors and is the originator of the card lock concept of marketing on-road diesel that is now the predominant purchase method of diesel in Canada. He is a regular guest on radio and television programs, and he is quoted regularly in newspaper and magazines across Canada


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