PHMSA Offers Pipeline Safety Grants

Bakken pipeline threatened
Bakken pipeline threatened

As oil pipeline safety concerns escalate across the country, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is ramping up its efforts to meet the growing demand for innovation.

Related:ND Defines Stricter Rules for Pipeline Construction

In addition to hiring more that 100 new safety inspectors this year, the PHMSA will also be awarding $2 million in grants for students and faculty to research pipeline safety solutions. These grants designed to expose new engineers and scientists to the technical side of the energy transportation sector.

We’re not simply offering grants through the CAAP; we’re demonstrating to engineering and technical students that their disciplines are in demand in the energy pipeline sector,” said PHMSA Acting Administrator Timothy Butters. “PHMSA provides safety oversight for the country’s 2.6-million-mile pipeline network, and we need out-of-the-box thinkers.

Grant proposals will be evaluated on scientific merit, quality, management plans, work tasks, budgets and schedules. The PHMSA is specifically seeking projects that address technical gaps in the following areas:

  • Preventing and Mitigating Pipeline Corrosion
  • Developing Locatable Plastic Pipelines
  • Developing Inspection Tools to Quantify Pipe Strength and Toughness
U.S. Senator for North Dakota John Hoeven, commented“As we work towards building a comprehensive ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan for our country, it’s important to ensure that we build the right kind of infrastructure to support our energy needs, now and into the future,” Hoeven said. “We must ensure that our infrastructure is reliable, safe and efficient, and this grant will enable universities to do the innovative research that will do just that.

The debate around the safety of cruse pipelines has heated up since the shale oil boom in 2008. Most recently, President Obama delayed the Keystone pipeline when he vetoed bill saying he wants to hold off a final decision until further environmental reviews are complete.

Related: Obama Issues Keystone Pipeline Veto

DOT Seeks New Rail Car Design and Bakken Crude Testing

Oil Rail Car Image
Oil Rail Car Image

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed new rules this week for the testing of Bakken crude and better designed rail cars.

Within two years, the DOT proposes phasing out older DOT-111 tank cars for the shipment of packing group I flammable liquids. Unless the current DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards, they would not be approved for use in the transport of Bakken crude, which falls into the group I flammable liquids category.

In addition to the new tank car standards, new operating procedures like braking controls and speed restrictions for trains classified as high-hazard flammable trains were proposed. Also included in the DOT's recommendations, a new liquids and gas testing program to address the following:

  • frequency of sampling and testing;
  • sampling at various points along the supply chain;
  • sampling methods that ensure a representative sample of the entire mixture;
  • testing methods to enable better analysis, classification, and characterization of material;
  • statistical justification for sample frequencies; and,
  • duplicate samples for quality assurance.

PHMSA/FRA Report Finds Bakken Crude is More Volatile

In conjunction with the new proposed rules, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a report summarizing the analysis of Bakken crude oil data gathered by PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) between August 2013 and May 2014.  According to the report, data show that crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota tends to be more volatile and flammable than other crude oils.

By contrast, in May of 2014, The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), an industry trade association, released findings from a study that examined the characteristics of Bakken crude oil. In their report, the AFPM claims Bakken crude is within the safety standards for current rail car designs (DOT 111 tank cars), and is comparable to other light crudes.

Read more: AFPM Study Finds Bakken Crude Meets Current Safety Standards for Rail Car Design


Lynchburg, VA Train Derailment Sparks Increased Scrutiny of Bakken Crude Oil

Oil Rail Car Image
Oil Rail Car Image

In late April of 2014, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and burst into flames in Lynchburg, VA. No one was injured, but the incident has once again raised safety concerns about the transportation of crude by rail.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is conducting tests of Bakken crude. In February of 2014, PHMSA announced it would pursue fines against Hess, Marthon Oil, and Whiting for failing to properly classify their oil. PHMSA requires the use of nine hazardous materials classifications.

Read more: Hess, Marathon, and Whiting Face Fines for Bakken Oil Classifications

In a May 2014 Wall Street Journal Report, the publication cited the DOT's claim that most energy companies operating in the Bakken haven't provided the requested testing data on crude they ship by rail. Exxon Mobil Corp., Continental Resource and Savage Services Corp. have voluntarily provided the data. A statement released by the U.S. DOT suggested it may take steps to force companies to submit data.

Is Bakken Crude More Flammable?

Bakken oil is produced at a high quality that makes it easier to refine into commercial products and makes it easier to ignite. Light oil production growth in the Bakken isn’t something the industry has never handled before, but the Bakken boom is bigger than anyone expected. As a result of lack of pipelines and additional infrastructure, nearly 70% of all Bakken crude is transported by rail.

Read moreIs Bakken Oil More Flammable?

History of Bakken Crude Oil Train Derailments and Explosions

The incident in Lynchburg, VA is the most recent in a chain of train derailments and explosions connected to Bakken crude. In July 2013, a train derailed and exploded in LacMegantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. The most recent incident, prior to the Lynchburg, VA, incident, occurred when two BNSF operated trains carrying Bakken crude collided and derailed near Casselton, ND, in late December 2013.

Read more: Derailed Train in Canada Was Carrying Bakken Oil

In early April of 2014, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing was held to examine the level of federal resources that should be allotted for railway safety. Multiple U.S. Senators appealed to the committee for more railway safety funding, including Senators John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D) of North Dakota.

Read more: U.S. Senators Appeal to Senate Appropriations Committee for Railway Safety Funding


U.S. Senators Appeal to Senate Appropriations Committee for Railway Safety Funding

Crude Oil Train Passing Mountain
Crude Oil Train Passing Mountain

Approximately 70% of the oil produced in North Dakota is transported by rail. Safety concerns mounted after an incident where two BNSF operated trains carrying Bakken crude collided and derailed near Casselton, ND, in late December 2013. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said about 400,000 gallons or ~950 bbls of oil were spilled. Now, Senators from across the country are appealing to the Senate Appropriations Committee for railway safety funding this month.

In early April of this year, North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called on fellow members to support railway safety measures and a push for more rail inspectors. Specifically, Hoeven would like to see funding go to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Read moreAre More Pipelines and Rail Safety Measures Needed in Bakken - Senator John Hoeven - Video

In January of this year, PHMSA issued a safety alert for Bakken crude due. The alert reinforced the need to test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate de-gassify the crude oil before transportation. PHMSA is also working on new regulations for double hulled tankers.

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

On a related note, several U.S. Senators appealed to the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington D.C. for rail safety funding in a joint-letter on April 4th. The letter was signed by 16 U.S. Senators, and highlighted the "Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund".  

A Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund would provide U.S. Department of Transportation new flexibility to address emerging issues related to the transportation of Bakken crude and other energy products – including, but not limited to: more expeditious rulemakings, technical studies, increased rail and energy product inspections, safety mitigation and response planning, first responder training, and community outreach. Additionally, the Fund would provide needed additional resources to complete Operation Backpressure, a study of the qualities and characteristics of crude oil in the United States. Completion of this study is an important step because its results will inform future regulatory action.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing will take place this week, Wednesday, April 9th, to examine the level of federal resources that should be allotted for railway safety. North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp will be in attendance at the hearing to ask questions of the scheduled witnesses.

The derailment in Casselton and other recent rail crashes have rightly kept this issue on the minds of many in Washington and across the country. And I’m continuing to push for the issue of rail safety to remain front and center, said Heitkamp.




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.