Stop the Flaming Fracked Oil: Bakken Shale Oil Trains Full of Dangerous Volatile Chemicals
Ok. Someone’s got to say it. So we will. Stop the Bakken Shale oil trains!
The flaring is extreme: surely by now you’ve seen the photos of the Bakken Shale flaring? With 1,500 fires burning, it can be seen from outer space. The destructiveness to our climate is scientifically documented and can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the fugitive methane emissions that can be seen only with a FLIR camera.
But this — packing rail cars not designed to transport volatile, toxic, high-pressure gasses like benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene — and then putting shale oil mixed with 30 percent to 40 percent volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene — and then sending those trains through residential neighborhoods across the country — is beyond.
The mushroom-shaped fireball in Casselton should tell anyone these are no ordinary fires. The Bakken Shale oil is super-flammable, full of volatile gasses, and something is wrong with any official anywhere who lets these trains through their town. Forty-seven people are dead from the Lac-Megantic explosion, and fire from these exploding trains have filled the sky four times in six months, most recently on December 30th in Casselton, North Dakota.
Scientists and engineers are questioning whether, in fact, the derailments are causing the explosions, or the other way around. Watch the ten-minute video discussion with scientist Scott Smith, embedded in this Desmogblog post, to learn more. In the Alabama and North Dakota incidents, the engine cars stayed on the tracks, Smith says, whereas the exploded part of the train may have derailed because the Bakken Shale oil exploded into flames when the volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, turned from liquid to gas and ignited due to the presence of any static electricity or spark.
The Bakken Shale oil train series of explosions is so extraordinary that we are reposting in full, below, the Desmogblog piece by Steve Horn which has been making national news for 48 hours, including a mention on Democracy Now! on January 6th. This is top notch investigative reporting:
Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals
On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.
This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett‘s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.
Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLC, incorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The BNSF Direct “bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis’ terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.
According to Marquis’ website, its Hayti, Missouri terminal receives seven of BNSF Direct’s 118-unit cars per week, with an on-site holding terminal capacity of 550,000 barrels of oil.
Marquis was one of many companies in attendance at a major industry conference in Houston, Texas in February 2013, called “Upgrading Crude By Rail Capacity.” Its September 2012 Missouri DNR permit application lends additional insight into how and why BNSF’s freight train erupted so intensely in Casselton.
Rather than a normal permit, Marquis was given a “special conditions” permit because the Bakken oil it receives from BNSF contains high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the same threat PHMSA noted in its recent safety alert.
Among the most crucial of the special conditions: Marquis must flare off the VOCs before barging the oil down the Mississippi River. (Flaring is already a highly controversial practice in the Bakken Shale region, where gas is flared off at rates comparable to Nigeria.)
It’s a tacit admission that the Bakken Shale oil aboard the exploded BNSF train in Casselton, ND is prone to such an eruption.
“Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) emissions are expected from the proposed equipment,” explains the Marquis permit. “There will be evaporative losses of Toluene, Xylene, Hexane, and Benzene from the crude oil handled by the installation.”
In a December 31 Google Hangout conversation between actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, and the group’s chief scientist Scott Smith, Mr. Smith discussed the oil samples he collected on a previous visit to North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.
“What I know from the testing I’ve done on my own — I went out to the Bakken oil fields and pumped oil from the well — I know there are unprecedented levels of these explosive volatiles: benzene, toluene, xylene,” said Smith.
“And from the data that I’ve gotten from third parties and tested myself, 30 to 40 percent of what’s going into those rail cars are explosive volatiles, again that are not in typical oils.”
“We must work to better understand the risks involved with the transportation of unconventional crude oil, whether diluted bitumen or Bakken fracked oil,” Smith told DeSmogBlog.
“It all starts with scientifically and transparently understanding exactly what is in these crude oils, and working to set new safety standards to protect human lives and all waterways, wetlands, marshes and sensitive ecosystems.”
It may be the dead of winter in North Dakota, but the Casselton explosion has shined a bright light on the myriad serious threats of Bakken oil rolling down the tracks through the backyards of thousands of Americans. The industry’s secrecy about the explosiveness of this oil just went up in flames.
But how will the public react to the news that industry knew this could happen all along? With the Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, and the deadly Bakken oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec last July, all North Americans ought to question the wisdom of extracting and transporting this highly dangerous oil.
To see this post on its home site visit Desmogblog.