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.


New Fracking Rules for Public Lands

New Regulations For Fracking on Public Lands
New Regulations For Fracking on Public Lands

After a four-year process that included over 1.5 million public comments, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized new rules on Friday to regulate hydraulic oil and gas fracturing on public lands.

Related: GOP to Oppose Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations

Since 2007, there has been a steady increase in the use of hydraulic fracturing, but the rules to oversee the practice had not been updated in three decades. The BLM began its work to update existing rules in 2010 after growing public concern amidst the shale oil boom that expanded the use of hydraulic fracturing, the technology that extracts oil from the rock.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said that “Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations. This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources. As we continue to offer millions of acres of public lands for conventional and renewable energy production, it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place.

The rules go into effect in 90 days and require the following:

  •  A validation of well integrity in order to protect groundwater supplies
  •  Companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing through the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations
  • Higher standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife
  •  Companies to submit more detailed information before fracking to reduce the risk of cross-well contamination

This ruling only applies to development on public and tribal lands and could potentially impact more than 90,000 oil and gas wells and set a precedent for future regulations.

Response to the ruling has been swift, with environment groups applauding this as a necessary first step towards protecting our public lands. But the backlash from the energy industry was just as quick with Independent Petroleum Association of America already filing a lawsuit that challenges the regulation.


Bakken Oil Safety

Bakken Oil Safety
Bakken Oil Safety

Two separate accidents across the Williston region on Saturday have added to the growing concern about Bakken oil safety and is fueling the intense debate about the way oil is produced, contained and transported in the United States.

In a new series of posts, we will examine this issue and try to separate the facts from the hype and the science from the scare tactics.

Related: Bakken Oil Transport Still Not Safe

Explosions Galore

An explosion erupted at 3:00am at an oil and gas waste disposal site north of Alexander, N.D. in McKenzie County. There were no injuries reported, but the massive fire spread to eight storage tanks and was so intense that emergency crews decided to let it burn itself out. The flames subsided by mid morning just as three oil tanks operated by Marathon went up in flames another 53 miles away, near the small town of Killdeer. These incidents were only a few weeks after eight tanks were destroyed in the same area as 1500 barrels of crude blazed across the street from an Enbridge facility.

Crude by Rail

A top concern when thinking about Bakken oil safety is the transport of crude by rail.

According to one report, “there were 117 crude-by-rail spills in the United States during 2013, a near-tenfold rise since 2008 (...) and there were more such spills in 2014 than in any year since the federal government began collecting data on spill incidents in 1975.

With oil production currently at all time highs, the amount of crude traveling the country will escalate and, many fear, so may the number of accidents.

Just in the last few weeks, there have been a number of news reports of these accidents:

  • 3/8/15:Train carrying crude oil derails in northern Ontario more
  • 3//7/15 Train carrying crude oil derails in Canada more
  • 3/6/15: Oil train carrying Bakken crude explodes in Illinois more
  • 2/14/15 Train carrying crude oil derails in Canada more
  • 2/17/15: WV derailment carries Bakken crude in more

Next in the series: Is Bakken crude really more dangerous?

New Regulations for Oil Transportation in the Bakken

new regulations for Bakken add strict guidelines
new regulations for Bakken add strict guidelines

In an effort to improve the safety of crude production in the Bakken region, the North Dakota Industrial Commission issued an order on December 9th that will impose new regulations on oil producers.

The order (no. 25417) is the result of an investigation that began at an emotionally charged hearing in September. Over the past two months, commission members Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring considered oral and written comments from technical witnesses, manufacturers, land/royalty owners and the general public.

The new regulations will go into effect on April 1, 2015 and require that all new wells in the Bakken Petroleum System utilize equipment that controls vapor pressure in order to lessen the likelihood of explosions during transportation. This order comes as a series of troublesome events in 2014 escalated a growing national concern over the transportation methods of Bakken crude.

The commission issued a joint statement that “The North Dakota Industrial Commission reiterates the importance of making Bakken crude oil as safe as possible for transportation. This order will bring every barrel of Bakken crude within standards to improve the safety of oil for transport.

In order to come into compliance, producers will have to shell out millions of dollars for new equipment, updated facilities and increased personnel. The order also establishes the Commission’s jurisdiction over these matters and provides for potential criminal and civil penalties for producers that are deemed noncompliant.

Read the Commission Report here.

ND Defines Stricter Rules for Pipeline Construction & Stripper Well Exemptions

A number of changes to the North Dakota Administrative Code could impact pipeline development and stripper wells in 2014. Approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission last month, forty-seven (47) new rules were proposed, bringing the number of rules for oil and gas operations to seventy (70). According to the Department of Mineral Resources, a division of the Industrial Commission, the changes could take place as early as April 1, 2014. One particular area of the code, 43-02-03-29, addresses pipeline development in the region:

All newly constructed underground gathering pipelines must be devoid of leaks and constructed of materials resistant to external corrosion and to the effects of transported fluids. All such pipelines installed in a trench must be installed in a manner that minimizes interference with agriculture, road and utility construction, the introduction of secondary stresses, the possibility of damage to the pipe, and tracer wire shall be buried with any nonconductive pipe installed. When a trench for an oil and gas underground gathering pipeline is backfilled, it must be backfilled in a manner that provides firm support under the pipe and prevents damage to the pipe and pipe coating from equipment or from the backfill material.

The new regulations come at a time when increased scrutiny on pipeline development in the region is piquing. A Tesoro pipeline released approximately 20,000 bbls of crude near Tioga, ND, in October. The cause is believed to be related to corrosion.

Read more: North Dakota Oil Spill Recover Efforts Underway

NDIC's Authority to Define Stripper Wells Expanded

Yet another area of production that could see an impact are in wells defined as stripper wells. The Director of the Department of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms, already had the authority to determine stripper well property status. The change could impact the number of wells receiving tax exemptions through stripper well status. The new regulations extend Helms's ability to determine a stripper well. Furthermore, the revised regulations account for horizontal drilling, relative to stripper wells:

"If a well that has previously qualified as a stripper well property is reentered and recompleted as a horizontal well, the stripper well property status on that well will terminate. "

Other facets of production worth noting that will be affected are with the notification of fires, leaks, spills or blowouts and underground injection wells.