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Bakken Oil Conditioning Rules Helped in Latest Train Derailment, State Official Says

North Dakota's newly implemented Bakken sweet crude oil conditioning rules helped in lessening the potential fallout from the recent crude-carrying train derailment in the northeast part of the state, the state's chief oil/natural gas official said Wednesday while reporting the state's latest monthly production statistics.

The harm to people and property was kept in check in the May 7 Heimdal, ND, 10-car derailment in Wells County, about 100 miles northeast of Bismarck (see Shale Daily, May 7), compared with an earlier crude tanker train mishap. That was at the end of 2013 near Casselton, ND, where a BNSF train carrying crude oil smashed into another train that had derailed earlier, setting off explosions and fires in nine tanker cars (see Shale Daily, Dec. 31, 2013), said Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources.

"If you compare the video and the photographs of the Casselton and Heimdal incidents, you see a different character to the derailment and the ensuing fire," said Helms, who added that federal and local officials investigating at the site said there were no "BLEV's" (boiling liquid explosive vapor) in the Heimdal accident.

"There were a lot of those [BLEVs] in Casselton and none in Heimdal, so we think [the new rules] had an impact, and we are still waiting for the reports on the performance of the rail cars and how they were equipped." Helms cited the new rules for tank cars carrying crude and other flammable liquids (see Shale Daily, May 1).

"We're interested in whether these rail cars had any of the added equipment on them that we really strongly support in those [federal] rules," Helms said. The state's conditioning requirements that took effect April 1 have taken care of what he called "outlying" Bakken crude situations where the vapor pressure was "way above average."

The new rules apply to all production in the state, including the substantial supplies coming from the Fort Berthold Reservation on federal lands. They would also prohibit "blending back" of natural gas liquids (NGL) into the crude shipments (see Shale Daily, Dec. 11, 2014).

Regarding the new federal regulations, Helms said North Dakota and the American Petroleum Institute (API)  are "pretty well aligned" on the new federal rules, despite API's subsequent legal action seeking a court injunction against the new tank car requirements. "API fully supports the relief valve requirements, and we think that is probably the most important thing that can be done to rail cars," he said.

He said API's biggest disagreement with the new federal rules relates to the braking system requirements. That issue and the proposed timing for the phase out of existing rail tank cars is where API is strongly opposed, according to Helms. "So we are somewhat aligned with API, but not completely."

In the meantime, Helms' DMR inspectors have been fully engaged in implementing the new state oil conditioning rules, including the quarterly vapor pressure testing of 2,600 wells. To date, the state has checked 2,552 of those wells with 99% found to be in compliance, he said. "We only have eight tests come in that did not meet the standard, and they all passed a re-test."

Another 9,800 wells are looking at oil treating equipment temperatures and pressures, and state inspections have been completed on about 60% of those, said Helms, noting the remaining 40% will be completed by the end of the second quarter. "We're finding about 90% compliance," he said. "Some of it is maintenance problems, some is human error and other reasons. They have 48 hours and are then re-tested."

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