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Alert issued on Bakken crude, local emergency responders train to be prepared (with video)

National Transportation Safety Board board member Robert Sumwalt views damaged rail cars on scene of BNSF train accident in Casselton, N.D. Photo: National Transportation Safety Board 2 / 2

Tribune and Forum News Service reports

FARGO — A federal agency issued a safety alert Thursday 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 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, 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.

While Kandiyohi County Emergency Management officials have general knowledge of the fuels and chemicals transported by truck and rail through the county, it is the placards on truck trailers and railroad cars that help emergency responders quickly identify what is in a tanker in an emergency situation, according to Don Ericson, county emergency management director.

Based on their training, the emergency responders can then act accordingly to protect the public from the hazard, Ericson said. That action can include accessing the expertise of railroad officials and experts.

Ericson hadn’t yet received specific information on the alert, but noted that emergency managers are continually receiving information from other government agencies, the businesses that handle hazardous substances and their representative organizations, all in an effort to keep up with new and different hazards to the public’s safety.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “They are constantly creating new hazards for us.”

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.