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Bakken crude more dangerous to ship than other oil: US regulators

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is issuing  a safety alert to notify the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and...



WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is issuing  a safety alert to notify the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.

Based upon preliminary inspections conducted after recent rail derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Lac-Megantic, Quebec involving Bakken crude oil, PHMSA “is reinforcing the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to and during transportation.”

This advisory is a follow-up to the PHMSA and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint safety advisory published November 20, 2013 [78 FR 69745].  As stated in the November Safety Advisory, it is imperative that offerors properly classify and describe hazardous materials being offered for transportation.  49 CFR 173.22.  As part of this process, offerors must ensure that all potential hazards of the materials are properly characterized. 

Proper characterization will identify properties that could affect the integrity of the packaging or present additional hazards, such as corrosivity, sulfur content, and dissolved gas content. These characteristics may also affect classification. 

PHMSA stresses to offerors the importance of appropriate classification and packing group (PG) assignment of crude oil shipments, whether the shipment is in a cargo tank, rail tank car or other mode of transportation. Emergency responders should remember that light sweet crude oil, such as that coming from the Bakken region, is typically assigned a packing group I or II.

The PGs mean that the material’s flashpoint is below 73 degrees Fahrenheit and, for packing group I materials, the boiling point is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the materials pose significant fire risk if released from the package in an accident.

As part of ongoing investigative efforts, PHMSA and FRA initiated “Operation Classification,” a compliance initiative involving unannounced inspections and testing of crude oil samples to verify that offerors of the materials have been properly classified and describe the hazardous materials. 

“Operation Classification” will be an ongoing effort, and PHMSA will continue to collect samples and measure the characteristics of Bakken crude as well as oil from other locations, the regulator said.


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