| WASHINGTON, June 2
WASHINGTON, June 2 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out-of-date methods for determining vapor pressure, an important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
"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.
One study released May 20 by the North Dakota Petroleum
Council (NDPC) collected samples with open bottles rather than a
precision instrument, known as a floating piston cylinder, that
is being adopted by the industry.
Gas can escape with bottle sampling and such tests are
unreliable, said the Canadian Crude Quality Technical
Association, a trade group.
"We would consider the data suspect," the group said.
ASTM, an international standard-setting body, last month
deemed the floating piston cylinder the right tool for Bakken
fuel samples. Open bottle samples can skew vapor pressure nearly
10 percent lower, according to research from Ametek,
which manufactures testing equipment.
Industry officials say that any underestimation of vapor
pressure would be negligible.
Vapor pressure results did not exceed 15 pounds per square
inch (psi) in the NDPC report.
A separate study by the American Fuel and Petrochemical
Manufacturers (AFPM) returned readings below 17 psi.
The threshold pressure for flammable gas is 43 psi under
those same conditions.
Rich Moskowitz, general counsel for the AFPM, the refining
industry trade group, said its report "clearly found that Bakken
crude oil is properly transported as a flammable liquid. That's
the bottom line."
Industry officials note that the U.S. Department of
Transportation has not issued any of its own findings on Bakken
fuel despite collecting samples since the summer.
The issue will likely be raised on Tuesday at a panel of the
Senate Commerce Committee which will feature testimony from
railroad regulators, among others.
"It is my hope that any private data collection and studies
on this issue will be highly scrutinized," said Senator Cory
Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who sits on the panel.
(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Grant McCool)