Saturday, June 7, 2014

Industry tests of crude-by-rail dangers need scrutiny, U.S. officials say

Patrick Rucker, Reuters Business News Network
June 2, 2014

Oil industry studies concluding that Bakken crude oil is safe to move by rail under existing standards may underestimate the dangers of the fuel and should not be the last word, U.S. lawmakers and industry officials said on Monday. 

In the past year, several doomed oil trains originated from North Dakota's Bakken region, including a shipment that jumped the tracks and burst into flames in Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 30. Last July, a fiery derailment destroyed the center of the village of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. 

Two industry-funded studies conclude Bakken fuel is rightly classed as a flammable liquid that can safely move in standard tank cars. The cargo is nothing akin to flammable gasses like propane that must move in costlier, heavier vessels, the oil industry has said. 

But the industry findings hinge on incomplete and out-of-date methods for determining vapour pressure, an important indicator of volatility, that may miss the true dangers of Bakken fuel, according to several industry officials. 

Lawmakers say they expect regulators to scrutinize the industry's findings. 

"These studies should be taken with a grain of salt," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, a state that is a major pass-through point for Bakken fuel. 
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