Only through improved communication and compliance with federal regulations for transporting crude oil can the oil continue to be moved safely, a federal regulator said Tuesday.
Kip Wills, central region director for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, spoke to the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck on rail and pipeline safety.
Wills said while the volume of crude being shipped in the United States has quadrupled in recent years due to increased production, accidents have decreased by approximately 50 percent.
“Everybody that’s supporting this (industry) — you need to do it right,” Wills said.
Major incidents aren’t common, but when they occur they draw their share of headlines, he said. In the past year, fiery train derailments have occurred in the Canadian province of Quebec as well as in Virginia, Alabama and North Dakota.
An important point, Wills said, was that the root cause of each of the incidents was found to be human error or issues with infrastructure.
“The commodity may contribute … but it’s not causing the incident,” Wills said.
That was borne out in study results released Tuesday by Dallas-based consulting firm Turner, Mason and Company.
The study, based on analysis of 150 samples of Bakken crude oil, found it to be similar to other light sweet crudes and not to be more volatile when transported.
Over the last several months, Wills said, federal regulators have pushed to increase inspections and testing of the oil.
He said during February and March, the PHMSA conducted dozens of visits to rail facilities across North Dakota and participated in several outreach activities.
As a result of the stepped-up inspections, he said, there are
10 enforcement actions pending for violations.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring testing of oil along with identifying the flashpoint and boiling point of the crude.
Potential new regulations for shipping crude include speed restrictions and routing considerations, which Wills said refer to areas crude can pass through when shipped.
It’s not a matter of if product is going to be shipped but how and with what regulations, he said.
“It’s only working together … that we’re going to make this work,” Wills said.