North Dakota crude no more dangerous than similar fuels, report finds

HOUSTON — An industry-funded study released Monday concluded that the oil from the Bakken region doesn’t pose a greater risk to transport than other similar, types of crude.

The study is the most scientific analysis of the region’s crude so far, the North Dakota Petroleum Council said. The group hopes the report allays fears that Bakken oil may be more prone to ignition — after a series of accidents involving rail shipments of the oil.

“The long and the short of [the report] is that Bakken crude is not unique,” said Jonathan Garrett, a senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie. “What makes the Bakken unique is the amount of crude that’s leaving North Dakota and eastern Montana.”

Crude production in the Bakken region has ballooned rapidly in the past few years. Many producers have turned to rail to move the oil. In April, as much as three-fourths of North Dakota’s oil was shipped by train, though the share has since fallen slightly as producers moved back to pipelines.

A string of accidents have followed the high volume of rail shipments. Last year, a train derailed the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic and killed 47.

Regulators and the industry have been examining both the characteristics of the Bakken crude and shipping practices in a push for greater safety.

The new report by the North Dakota Petroleum Council report offers a range of safety recommendations, maintaining temperature between 90 degrees and 120 degrees and providing maximum tank settling time prior to shipment, among other safety steps.

The report also recommends classifying the crude in the most volatile hazardous material packing group for shipping. If followed, the heightened classification may accelerate a push to newer, sturdier tank cars under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that may be adopted soon.

The report follows an analysis by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers that also suggested that Bakken crude is no more flammable or volatile than other light, sweet crudes, the Petroleum Council stated in the announcement.

However, a government report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, recently suggested that the Bakken crude may be more volatile than others crudes. The PHMSA’s conclusion has been disputed by industry groups.

The report also offers significant new analysis that may help producers and refiners better understand the benchmarks for crude produced in the region, said Sandy Fielden, an analyst with RBN Energy LLC.

“If you have established standards that say what this crude looks like,” Fiedlen said, “It’s easier to for participants in the transaction to carry on business with more confidence.”