U.S. Agency Issues Emergency Order To Address Danger Of Shipping Crude Oil By Rail

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ken Pawluk

A train derailment and fire west of Casselton, N.D., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013.

The Department of Transportation on Tuesday issued an emergency order requiring shippers to test the volatility of crude oil being shipped from the Bakken oil region of North Dakota and Montana, another in a series of federal responses to explosive derailments in recent months.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil … If you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a written statement. “And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups.”

Early this month, the Department of Transportation issued violation notices and fines against tank car loaders in North Dakota for wrongly classifying crude oil from the Bakken. Three companies were fined for essentially downgrading the hazard rating of crude shipments.

Crude oil is classified as packing group I, II or II depending on the level of danger of the material based on the temperature at which it boils and catches fire, with group I posing great danger, group II moderate danger, and group III the least danger.

The emergency order issued Tuesday requires shippers to classify crude oil shipments as either packing group I or II, and determines that group III “will not be accepted, until further notice.”

There is a growing body of evidence that crude from the Bakken shale oil field is unusually volatile compared to crude oil from other regions of the country. Since last July there have been several derailments of crude oil trains form the Bakken that have resulted in explosions and fires, including one last year in Quebec that killed 47 people.