Department of Energy Study Finds Bakken Crude No More Volatile than Crude from Other Regions

On April 20, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report to Congress entitled “Crude Oil Characterization Research Study.”  The impetus for this study dates back to the 2013 Lac Megantic tragedy and other derailments of trains carrying Bakken crude oil.  In 2015, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration adopted the Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains Final Rule.  That rule was grounded in the assumption that crude oil produced in the Bakken region is more flammable than crude produced in other areas, and it imposed additional requirements and restrictions on trains carrying Bakken crude.  Section 7309 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, enacted later in 2015, provided for a study to determine the accuracy of this controversial assumption. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as Transport Canada, cooperated with DOE on the study.  The study concluded that Bakken crude is no more volatile than oil produced in other regions, stating that: “Based on the results of the Study, which assessed vapor pressure as it affects the thermal hazards from the combustion events studied; the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation find that no further regulations by the Secretary of Transportation or the Secretary of Energy or further legislation is necessary to improve the safe transport of crude oil with specific regard to vapor pressure.”

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