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Federal agency issues safety alert on Bakken crude

A federal agency issued a safety alert today on Bakken crude oil, warning emergency responders, the public and others that the light, sweet crude may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.

The safety alert from the the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration stems from preliminary inspections conducted after the recent derailment and fire in Casselton, N.D., as well as derailments in Alabama and Quebec.

Those investigations have prompted the agency to reinforce the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify and degasify hazardous materials prior to shipping, the agency says.

The alert advises emergency responders that Bakken crude poses a significant fire risk if released in an accident.

The notice says it’s imperative that the hazardous material is properly classified.

“Proper characterization will identify properties that could affect the integrity of the packaging or present additional hazards, such as corrosivity, sulfur content, and dissolved gas content,” the agency says in its alert.

PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration are working on “Operation Classification,” also known as the Bakken Blitz, to do unannounced inspections and testing of crude oil samples to verify that the oil from the Bakken formation, primarily in western North Dakota, has been properly classified.

“PHMSA expects to have final test results in the near future for the gas content, corrosivity, toxicity, flammability and certain other characteristics of the Bakken crude oil, which should more clearly inform the proper characterization of the material,” the agency says.

About 70 percent of crude oil produced in North Dakota is transported by rail.

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