Bakken crude within rail car safety design standards, AFPM study says

Bakken crude oil is well within the safety standards for current rail car designs, an American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers report concluded. The crude is comparable to other light grades and does not pose risks that are significantly different than other crudes or flammable liquids authorized for rail transport, it added.

Specifically, Bakken crudes are within pressure, flashpoint, boiling point, and corrosivity standards for use in rail cars approved by the US Department of Transportation, AFPM said in announcing its findings on May 15.

It said the report is based on a survey of AFPM members conducted in response to a request by DOT. A third-party auditor collected the data from 17 AFPM member companies on a confidential basis in accordance with federal antitrust laws, the Washington-based trade association noted. “AFPM engaged a former, long-time DOT official with an expertise in hazardous material transportation safety to develop the final report,” it said.

Data were collected from an analysis of about 1,400 samples of Bakken crude in order to better understand its properties, AFPM added.

“This report was aimed at specifically addressing the characteristics of Bakken crude and concludes that its characteristics are no different than other light crude oils,” AFPM Pres. Charles T. Drevna said. “We believe this data will help better inform the government as it reviews all aspects of the safe transportation of crude by rail.”

Accurately classified

AFPM said its data clearly show shows that the current classification of Bakken crude oil is accurate and appropriate. Bakken crude oil is designated as a flammable liquid under federal Hazardous Materials Regulations and as such, is subject to evaluation of its flashpoint and initial boiling point for classification purposes, it noted.

“While Bakken crude and other light crudes may contain higher amounts of dissolved flammable gases compared to some heavy crude oils, the percentage of dissolved gases would not cause Bakken crude to be transported under a DOT hazard class other than Class 3 Flammable Liquid,” AFPM said in its announcement. “Therefore, there is no need to create a new DOT classification for crude oil transportation.”

It said the maximum vapor pressure observed based on data collected was 61% below the vapor pressure threshold limit for liquids under the HMRs, demonstrating that Bakken crude is properly classified as a flammable liquid. Further, the highest reported value was more than 90% below the maximum pressure that DOT-111 rail cars were built to withstand, AFPM said.

“Rail safety is a shared responsibility, and AFPM and our members are committed to doing our part,” Drevna said. “But new specifications must be based on data showing the benefits are real, and that the new design will not adversely impact our ability to provide the fuels and other products Americans depend on every day.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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