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Industry, PHMSA to Share Results of Bakken Crude Tests

The federal government's independent testing of Bakken crude oil's content and chemical composition is ongoing after its launch last fall, and the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) has launched its own testing program. Indications Tuesday were that eventually the government and the industry will share their respective test results.

The Hazardous Materials Office in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) met with representatives of the North Dakota producers' group on Tuesday.

"The council representatives [NDPC] met with hazardous materials people for the first time to discuss joint interests in the safe transportation of crude oil," a spokesman with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday.

"The council acknowledged their initiation of crude oil testing with the intent of sharing those results at some future date.

"[In the meantime], PHMSA is waiting for the results of ongoing testing to help us more properly characterize that [Bakken] type of oil [in North Dakota and Montana].”

The agency's test results are not out yet, and there is no target date for releasing the results.

NDPC said last Friday it has launched its own study with the help of an independent engineering/management consultant and laboratory, contracting with Turner, Mason & Co. and an independent lab. An NDPC spokesperson said the results of the council's study will be provided to PHMSA, in addition to proprietary data that individual companies are already sharing with the agency. PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman told Congress recently that the industry was providing the confidential data.

"Data collected in this study also will be provided to the American Petroleum Institute as part of a collaborative industry effort to develop best practices and industry standards for crude oil testing and classification," the spokesman said.

NDPC said its study will collect multiple samples of Bakken crude from 12 locations and six rail depots throughout the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana over several weeks. Progress on the study will be updated at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference on May 20. The NDPC is one of the sponsors of the conference.

NDPC Vice President Kari Cutting said the Bakken light crude is comparable to other light sweet crudes based on the information the industry has to date, "but we know that some have questioned whether it is somehow different. This study will provide a thorough, third-party analysis to help regulators and industry determine the facts so we can make decisions based on sound science."

As evidence of the industry's commitment to safety, Cutting pointed to producers three years ago supporting the building of state-of-the-art rail tank cars that exceed government requirements. "The oil and gas industry's goal is to reach zero incidents,” she said.

Early this year PHMSA issued a safety alert on Bakken crude oil, warning that the light, sweet crude may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3).

PHMSA began its testing last fall at an independent laboratory that was looking at the boiling point and flash point for Bakken crude oil, but it subsequently decided to test broader parameters, and that has extended the time for the testing, the spokesman said.

"They wanted to study the corrosive nature of the oil and other flammable parameters, so with the added requirement, we've had to extend the time period for these tests, and our hazmat office has yet to come back and let us know when they expect the test results."

PHMSA's alert and testing program has stemmed from preliminary inspections the agency conducted after the crash of a BNSF train carrying crude oil near Casselton, ND, in late December (see Shale Daily, Dec. 31, 2013), and a derailment in Alabama and a catastrophic oil tanker train crash that wiped out a small Quebec town during the last half of 2013.

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