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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Firefighter Safety Alert: Bakken crude oil is much more explosively volatile than conventional heavy crude oil #FirefighterSafety


There have been 3 derailments involving Bakken* crude oil (*see definition and short video below) that have involved significant fires and BLEVE's, the most recent in North Dakota.

Train explosions prompt regulator warning on Bakken oil flammability

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert cautioning of the potential danger following three derailments of crude from the Bakken in 2013, which included massive explosions. An incident on Monday in North Dakota sent towering fireballs into the air and caused local evacuations. A derailment in Canada leveled part of a town and caused 47 deaths.
“Based upon preliminary inspections conducted after recent rail derailments in North DakotaAlabama 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,” the agency said.
The agency said that the quality of light sweet crude oil from the Bakken should be categorized in one of two groups of products, including one for materials that have a low boiling point.
“This means the materials pose significant fire risk if released from the package in an accident,” the agency said.
Here are the explosive incident videos:
(See below for a short video explaining "Bakken")

While the right folks are still investigating these incidents, there is very strong evidence that this type of crude oil is much more volatile than conventional heavy crude oil. Bakken oil is different from the traditional heavy crudes because it is prone to ignite at a lower temperature. Experts say lighter crudes, which contain more natural gas, have a much lower "flash point" the temperature at which vapors given off by the oil can ignite.

They want to get the word out to firefighters so we are aware and respond "appropriately."

The other factor is that that Bakken crude is moving in very large volumes on "unit trains" that can involve up to 2 million gallons of product, so the risk is higher simply because more of it is moving.

DID YOU KNOW that the amount of oil moving by rail in the U.S. has spiked since 2009, from just more than 10,000 tanker cars to more than 400,000 cars in 2013.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is issuing this safety alert to notify you 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. Preliminary testing has focused on the classification and packing group assignments that have been selected and certified by offerors of crude oil. These tests measure some of the inherent chemical properties of the crude oil collected.  Nonetheless, the agencies have found it necessary to expand the scope of their testing to measure other factors that would affect the proper characterization and classification of the materials.  PHMSA expects to have final test results in the near future for the gas content, corrosivity, toxicity, flammability and certain other characteristics of the Bakken crude oil, which should more clearly inform the proper characterization of the material.

"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.  Based on initial field observations, PHMSA expanded the scope of lab testing to include other factors that affect proper characterization and classification such as Reid Vapor Pressure, corrosivity, hydrogen sulfide content and composition/concentration of the entrained gases in the material. The results of this expanded testing will further inform shippers and carriers about how to ensure that the materials are known and are properly described, classified, and characterized when being shipped.  In addition, understanding any unique hazards of the materials will enable offerors, carriers, first responders, as well as PHMSA and FRA to identify any appropriate mitigating measures that need to be taken to ensure the continued safe transportation of these materials.

PHMSA will share the results of these additional tests with interested parties as they become available.  PHMSA also reminds offerors that the hazardous materials regulations require offerors of hazardous materials to properly classify and describe the hazardous materials being offered for transportation.  49 CFR 173.22.  Accordingly, offerors should not delay completing their own tests while PHMSA collects additional information.

For additional information regarding this safety alert, please contact Rick Raksnis, PHMSA Field Services Division,
(202) 366-4455 or E-mail:  For general information and assistance regarding the safe transport of hazardous materials, contact PHMSA's Information Center at 1-800-467-4922 or
Happy 2014.

VIDEO: The Bakken: North Dakota's Secret Oil Stash

 The Bakken formation is a rock unit from the Late Devonian to Early Mississippian age occupying about 200,000 square miles (520,000 km2) of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, underlying parts of Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The formation was initially described by geologist J.W. Nordquist in 1953. The formation is entirely in the subsurface, and has no surface outcrop. It is named after Henry Bakken, a farmer in Tioga, North Dakota who owned the land where the formation was initially discovered, in a boring for oil. Besides being a widespread prolific source rock for oil when thermally mature, there are also significant producible reserves of oil within the Bakken formation itself. Oil was first discovered within the Bakken in 1951, but past efforts to produce it have faced technical difficulties. In April 2008, a USGS report estimated the amount of recoverable oil using technology readily available at the end of 2007 within the Bakken Formation at 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels (680,000,000 m3), with a mean of 3.65 billion. The state of North Dakota also released a report that month which estimated that there are 2.1 billion barrels (330,000,000 m3) of technically recoverable oil in the Bakken. 
Various other estimates place the total reserves, recoverable and non-recoverable with today's technology, at up to 24 billion barrels. A recent estimate places the figure at 18 billion barrels. In April 2013, the US Geological Survey released a new figure for expected ultimate recovery of 7.4 billion barrels of oil.

The application of hydraulic fracturing technology caused a boom in Bakken production since 2000. By the end of 2010 oil production rates had reached 458,000 barrels (72,800 m3) per day outstripping the pipeline capacity to ship oil out of the Bakken. The production technology gain has led a veteran industry insider to declare that the USGS estimates are too low.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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