U.S. oil refiners have released a new report arguing that oil from the Bakken region is potentially volatile, but is no more dangerous to ship by rail than other forms of crude, despite alarms raised after last summer's deadly explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Que.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a lobby group for oil refineries, submitted the report to Washington this week. The organization said its tests show oil from the Bakken fields that straddle North Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, falls within existing rail shipping guidelines. Even though the industry group found some examples of oil containing high levels of dangerous vapours and hazardous contents, the lobby group said, over all, the crude is technically permissible to ship under current regulations.
The focus of the report is to argue against new regulations on shipping oil from the Bakken region. Its findings contradict those of several studies by government bodies and investigators in Canada and the United States after several fiery oil train wrecks in North America in the past eight months. Investigators of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, in which 47 people were killed when a runaway oil train that derailed last July, have indicated that testing on the oil suggests high levels of dangerous vapours made it extremely explosive.
After the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, oil and rail industry experts said they had never seen oil erupt in such massive explosions. U.S. regulators have also warned the industry that they have seen evidence of corrosion in rail tank cars, which makes them weaker and more susceptible to rupturing, and that lighter Bakken oil has a lower flashpoint than other forms of crude, which makes it more likely to explode.
The AFPM said it surveyed 17 of its members who handle Bakken crude and received data on 1,400 oil samples collected in February and March. While the samples indicate that some of the oil is more volatile, and in at least one case did contain significant levels of deadly hydrogen sulphide gas, "Bakken crude oil does not pose risks significantly different than other crude oils or other flammable liquids authorized for rail transport."
Several oil trains have derailed and burned since the Lac-Mégantic disaster. In November, a train derailed in rural Alabama, causing a massive fireball that scorched the surrounding swampland.
AFPM president Charles Drevna said in an interview on Thursday that the refining industry would like more focus put on safety measures for the railways. He also said the report shows that rail cars known as DOT-111 tankers are sufficient to ship Bakken oil, even though there is a push for them to be replaced.
The report relies heavily on a test known as Reid vapour pressure (RVP), which is often used to measure the risk that oil cars will become over-pressurized during shipping. However, concerns have arisen within the shipping industry about flaws in that testing method.