BNSF Railway Abandons Plans to Buy Tanker Cars

Crude by Rail
Crude by Rail

Citing ‘customer complaints’, the BNSF railway has abandoned plans to buy 5,000 crude oil tankers.

Typically, leasing companies or oil companies own the tank cars that move crude along the tracks and not the railroads themselves. But last year, BNSF requested proposals from railcar manufacturers to produce cars for them that were stronger and safer cars than the current DOT standards. The company had hoped that producing cars with thicker shells, reinforced ends and thermal blankets would reduce the risks of using trains to haul oil.

Over the past two years, BNSF Railway has been involved in a number of incidents including a derailment and fiery crash that caused the evacuation of a small town in North Dakota just last week. The company confirmed that the eight cars that derailed were the unjacketed CPC-1232 models that the federal government would like phased out by 2020 due to safety concerns.

Related: Bakken Crude Train Derails

A company spokesperson commented about the company’s decision to scrap the plans by saying, “If our customers do not want us in this business, we’ll re-evaluate. We’ll do something else.

The debate over rail safety is continuing to escalate and just last month, NTSB urged stricter standards due to findings from study of recent train derailment accidents. They concluded that the current fleet of DOT-111 tank cars rupture too quickly and result in spillage and ignition.

Related: Crude by Rail Facing Tougher Standards

DOT Tells Oil Tankers to Slow Down

Crude by Rail
Crude by Rail

The DOT's Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order on Friday that establishes a maximum speed of 40 miles an hour for certain trains going through high threat urban areas.

Related: Bakken Crude by Rail Under Attack

Citing “gaps in the existing regulatory scheme”, the agency beefed up the 2014 voluntary agreement by making this speed limit a requirement for trains hauling crude oil and other flammable liquids. The emergency order defines affected trains as:

  1. 20 or more loaded tank cars in a continuous block or 35 loaded tank cars of class 3 flammable liquid
  2. AND at least one DOT-111 tank car loaded with class 3 flammable liquid
The emergency order states that “Speed is a factor that may contribute to the severity of a derailment or the derailment itself. Speed can affect the probability of an accident. A lower speed may allow for a brake application to stop a train before a collision, or allow a locomotive engineer to identify a safety problem and stop the train before an accident or derailment occurs.

The requirements go into effect immediately and carry potential penalties of $105,000 dollars for companies that don’t comply.

This order is one of many attempts by the DOT to address this huge issue of rail safety including two previous emergency orders in the last two years. The department has also proposed a more comprehensive series of regulations that are under review by the White House that includes a stronger tank car design and better train braking systems.


Hess, Marathon, and Whiting Face Fines for Bakken Oil Classifications

Oil Rail Car Image
Oil Rail Car Image

Hess, Marthon Oil, and Whiting Petroleum all face potential fines from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The fines are being pursued as a result of PHMSA's investigation into the transportation of Bakken oil.

Oil taken from cargo tanks en route to rail facilities in the region was not properly classified. PHMSA took 18 samples from cargo tanks, storage tanks, and pipelines. In all, 11 of the 18 samples were not classified properly.

Hess faces fines of more than $50,000, Marathon Oil faces ~$30,000 in fines, and Whiting faces $12,000 in fines.

Also read:DOT's Arm Issues Bakken Sahle Oil Shipping Safety Alert

Transportation has an important role to play in helping meet our country’s energy needs, thanks to the increased production of crude oil, but our top priority is ensuring that it is transported safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The fines we are proposing today should send a message to everyone involved in the shipment of crude oil: You must test and classify this material properly if you want to use our transportation system to ship it.

PHMSA requires the use of nine hazardous materials classifications. Proper classification ensures the material is handled properly and that emergency responders can accurately assess accidents.

As a result of the findings, PHMSA has expanded the scope of the testing to include testing for proper vapor pressure characterizations, corrosivity, hydrogen sulfide, and concentration of dissolved gases.

Is Bakken Oil More Flammable?

Plains Crude By Rail Costs
Plains Crude By Rail Costs

Bakken oil is produced at a high quality that makes it easier to refine into commercial products and makes it easier to ignite.

There is nothing new about oil being flammable. The science has been the same for well....forever. At a point a few decades ago, light-sweet crude (WTI) was the dominate oil quality in the U.S.

Light oil production growth in the Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Permian isn't something the industry has never seen or handled, but it is an unforeseen boom bigger than anyone expected.

Now that trains are moving the oil on a larger scale, it's important the terminals and rail companies meet high standards to ensure safety.

The flash point or lowest possible temperature at which the oil can be ignited is lower for Bakken oil than it is for tar sands coming out of Canada. That fact led the DOT to issue a Bakken Shale Oil Shipping Safety Alert last week.

What's Important to Ensuring Safety in the Bakken?

In short, the answer is YES. Bakken crude is of high quality and more flammable than lower grade crude oil, but that's nothing new and shouldn't be a shock. Emphasis needs to be placed on classifying the crude correctly (which it hasn't been shown that there is a problem there) and making sure the railroads are as safe as possible.

Additional safety measures need to be taken when hydrogen-sulfide or other flammable gases are dissolved in the oil. The oil needs to be degasified before transportation.

The other thing we can do as voters - Make sure pipelines can be built where needed without undue obstacles. The track record speaks for itself - pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move hydrocarbons.

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Department of Transportation's PHMSA Issues Bakken Shale Oil Shipping Safety Alert

Oil Rail Car Image
Oil Rail Car Image

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued a safety alert for Bakken crude.

PHMSA issued the alert to reinforce the need to test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate de-gassify the crude oil before transportation.

PHMSA also wants to remind first responders of that light sweet crude is assigned a packing group of I or II. Those packing groups mean the flash point is below 73 degrees Farenheit and the boiling point for packing group I is below 95 degrees Farenheit.

"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.

Read the full releast at