Is Bakken sweet crude more volatile than typical crude oil? If so, do additional precautions need to be taken in transporting Bakken crude from well head to refinery?

The questions need answering.

Certainly, no one wants to be responsible for a derailment, explosion and fireball like the one in July in Lac Megantic, Quebec, in which 42 people were killed. Apparently, the tanker cars in the train were carrying misl abeled Bakken crude.

Another oil train derailment in Alabama in November also resulted in a powerful explosion, Again, the cargo was Bakken crude. Fortunately, no one was killed in the Alabama incident.

The investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada working on the Lac Megantic explosion describes the Bakken crude tested from the tankers there to be closer to gasoline than typical crude. It’s a finding that Beach Fire Chief Dan Buchholz agrees with in general.

“From what we’re told, this Bakken is a lot lighter and it can burn right out of the well,” Buchholz said.

That suggests that not all crude oil is alike and that some is more volatile.

The BNSF Railway, although not involved in the Lac Megantic incident, has raised operation standards for oil tanker trains. That seems sensible. Newly manufactured tankers are tougher than their predecessors, but there’s been no requirement that old tankers be decommissioned. That should be revisited.

The Federal Railroad Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration are conducting a “Bakken blitz” to determine whether tanker labeling is accurate. Another good response.

The risk of transporting oil, or anhydrous ammonia or anything else for that matter, cannot be eliminated — no more than a person can be guaranteed a safe flight in a passenger jet. There are risks in everything we do. That said, we have an obligation to mitigate and reduce risks where we can.

In the case of transporting Bakken crude, oil companies, shippers, emergency personnel and firefighters need to know what’s being transported, its volatility and how best to contain spills and control and extinguish any potential fires. We have seen enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that harder science needs to be brought to bear on the issue.

The nation is counting on domestic oil production for energy independence. Industry in the United States has the know-how and experience to create a transportation system that’s needed.

Whether Bakken crude moves by truck, train or pipeline, it needs to do so safely.

— Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune