Skip to main content

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

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 oildownstream 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.

“Special Conditions”

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.”

Benzene is a carcinogen, while toluene, xylene and hexane are dangerous volatiles that can cause severe illnesses or even death at high levels of exposure.

Scientific Vindication

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.”

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Smith said Marquis Energy’s Missouri DNR permit application is in line with his own scientific findings, a vindication of sorts in the aftermath of the Casselton explosion.

“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.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  IT'S. NOT. OIL. (7+ / 0-)

    And I wouldn't put it past them...
    Maybe the ND train mishap in the middle of the holidays...
    Who's paying attention?
    Trains bad/Pipelines good.

    I think that things will end badly.

    by cosette on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 11:08:33 PM PST

  •  That Bakken flare-off is as bright (8+ / 0-)

    as Chicago when viewed by satellite at night. Considering there was no meaningful light emitted from that land prior to drilling corroborates the idea there are surplus VOCs in that product.

    http://www.newscientist.com/...

    "And now we know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob." -- FDR

    by Mogolori on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 11:21:07 PM PST

  •  The Bakken vicinity lacks infrastructure (6+ / 0-)

    All those VOCs are valuable products. It's wasteful to flare it and produces toxic air pollution.

    The Bakken region doesn't have adequate refining or gas processing facilities to recover those commodities.

    I think part of this diary is comparing apples to oranges.

    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.)
    The VOCs in the crude oil are different than natural gas. They are flaring natural gas currently in the Bakken, not VOCs.

    The Bakken flaring's a whole different issue, but also related to the lack of local infrastructure to process and pipe the natural gas to customers.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 11:25:05 PM PST

  •  Interesting. (8+ / 0-)

    I hadn't followed up on the Lac Megantic catastrophe, but I was inclined to accept the explanation that the crude oil train had collided with sidelined propane tankers to create the horrendous fireball.

    Now you're telling me that the contents of the runaway train were this explosive, and that they knew all about this risk but didn't bother telling anyone (including, presumably, the engineer driving the train)?

    190 milliseconds....

    by Kingsmeg on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 11:26:13 PM PST

    •  The fireball from the ND explosion (5+ / 0-)

      was also ungodly.  I couldn't believe it was crude oil.

      BTW, I think Marquis Energy also owns a couple of big ethanol plants in NW Illinois that have barge lines.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 01:02:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You would be amazed at all of the hazardous (3+ / 0-)

      materials moving through your town via train and truck.

      http://thinkprogress.org/...

      "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~ Edward Abbey

      by SaraBeth on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 04:55:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It was pretty much established that the (4+ / 0-)

      Bakken oil was explosive (or at least highly flammable) from the Quebec explosion (the propane tanker explanation was quickly debunked).

      So I'm not sure what's up with all the "shock" over the "unexpected" explosiveness of the Bakken oil at this point in time.  I suppose it's a half-assed cover-your-ass "no one could have expected it" type of thing to get the culprits off the hook . ..

      What seems to be missing in most discussions, however, is the derailed soybean train that caused all of this in the first place.  If there weren't so many health nuts out there demanding tofu, the whole thing could have been headed off at the pass, so to speak.

  •  The diary was informative, but (7+ / 0-)

    VOCs are not considered explosives. They are highly flammable, but not explosive. There were impressive fireballs for the ND incident, but that is relatively slow burning. For an explosive detonation look at what happened in West, Texas (See 1:20), or at a rocket plant (see the shock wave at 0:58 seconds). If that train were full of explosives, there would most likely not be a town remaining.

    Sounds not picky, but I'm just striving for accuracy over sensationalism.

    The real concern is where the VOCs are coming from. Are they normally associated with the Bakken shale or are they used in the extraction process?

    •  Here's a couple links on Bakken composition (7+ / 0-)

      First, a write up with info about what class of VOCs that are causing the problems. These are lights, propane to heptane that will build pressure in the tank cars.

      Next what the refineries expect. Light, sweet crude. Much different than what's coming out of the tar sands in Canada.

      The problem seems to be one of producers wanting to move the product to the refineries as quick as possible, safety be damned. They don't want to invest in infrastructure to safely capture and transport the lighter fractions, so they flare it off.  The folks making the most money right now will be retired when the fields dry up, so they don't care about the waste.

      •  But (5+ / 0-)

        Said "infrastructure" is PIPELINES, which are very hard to build and quite controversial of late.  What is really needed is a gas pipeline, but with gas at $4/mmSCF, who's going to build it?  The oil needs to move in different directions than the current pipelines allow - east instead of south, for a number of reasons.  One of which is that crudes this light can't be reasonably stored in the deep south in existing floating roof tanks year-round (too volatile).  Another is that the refineries set up to refine this type of crude are mostly in the Eastern US, not in the Gulf.  The Gulf will gladly process this product, but they're mostly set up for a heavier crude slate.  North Dakota has not required CNG collection, and the market has not responded with CNG stations because of the cost of delivering CNG to market being so high.  Therefore, rail.  

        The rail moves lots of things more dangerous than crude.  You'd be surprised what's all on the rails.  But for the vast majority of shipments, nothing goes wrong and you never hear about it.  Rail is a lot safer than truck, which is the other alternative.  

        •  Yes, like ethanol . .. . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          6412093
          The rail moves lots of things more dangerous than crude.  You'd be surprised what's all on the rails.  But for the vast majority of shipments, nothing goes wrong and you never hear about it.
          and yeah, you rarely hear about ethanol train explosions.

          Fortunately I get the History Channel and their (or maybe its Discover Channel) fine show "Greatest Engineering Disasters" - one of their episodes was devoted to ethanol train explosions.  It was quite impressive, both from the POV of the explosions themselves and the play on words (e.g,. "Engineering" worked both from the aspect of the usual sense of the word, plus had a double meaning wrt the people who drive the trains . .. ).

          •  Wow, roadbed (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy

            a whole show on ethanol train explosions?  I want it!

            I collected ethanol train explosion videos for several years, to show at planning commission hearings on ethanol plants.

              I was hoping the stimulus spending on energy projects would finance a coast-to-coast ethanol pipeline, but no.
            No one ever built an ethanol pipeline.  It all moves by train and truck so there were many ethanol train explosions.

            But after awhile they all looked the same, a dozen tanker cars scattered like a game of pick up sticks, a multi-acre roaring fire that couldn't be put out, fears the fire would spread to the other tanker cars carrying benzene or the like, a tiny town getting evacuated ...

            But the ND crude explosion was by far much more impressive.  Thank God no one was even injured.

            “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

            by 6412093 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 11:11:19 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm trying to find the episode online (with no (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              6412093

              luck so far - it "aired" (on cable) 5 or 6 years ago IIRC)).

              What I have learned, however, is that the show's name is simply "Engineering Disasters" (not Greatest Engineering Disasters - so sorry about the hyperbole in that respect).

              Also, ethanol is too hygroscopic to transport via pipeline, that's the main reason ethanol pipelines have not been built.   But that limitation does point out that it IS feasible to move large quantities of liquid fuels by rail if necessary (as a counterpoint to KXL opponents who claim that by blocking the pipeline, tarsands development will be thwarted - that's just not supported by the precedent of either the use of ethanol as a fuelsourse or the development of the Bakken oil fields).

              •  You are almost right, Roadbed, (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Roadbed Guy

                Ethanol can't share a pipeline with other materials, because, as you pointed out, it sucks water out of the air.

                But I've read an ethanol-only pipeline would work. It might be kinda spendy.  There are short ethanol pipelines.

                Thanks for checking on the ethanol explosion show, it'll turn up.

                I hesitate to compare ethanol train shipments to the magnitude of tar sands shipments.

                A million barrels a day of tar sands equals 15 billion/gallons/year, right, at 42 gallon/bbl X 365 million?

                Ethanol production is about 10 billion gallons/year, but not all of it moves by train.

                It's close, but can the railroads handle both?

                “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

                by 6412093 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 08:59:37 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  The railroads have plenty of capacity (0+ / 0-)

                  as some more quick calculations show:

                  Let's assume that KXL pipeline could ship 800,000 bbls/day - at 600 bbls per rail car, that's 1,333 rail car loadings per day (I'm just doing these calculations in my head, so hopefully they're correct!).

                  One way to look at that is that would comprise about 12 trains a day , or one every two hours - a single rail line should be able to handle that amount of traffic easily (considerably more if double-tracked, which shouldn't be difficult to do in the relatively flat terrain of northern Alberta).

                  Once the tar sands trains get away from any local bottlenecks (e.g., once they get to the Edmonton area, they could move east, west, or south on existing mainlines) they would get lost in normal week to week fluctuations in rail traffic.  Which is to say that the 10,000 car loadings a week from the tarsands would be dwarfed by the 240,000 to 340,000  weekly car loading traffic from other sources (which is to say that ethanol is rather minor, as well).

                  Another way to look at this is that railroads haul much more coal than this, and with the recent coal slump, that alone provides them with excess capacity in this regard.

        •  Bulldozer, (0+ / 0-)

          I've read that some Bakken crude is stored at Cushing, so there must be some properly engineered storage tanks available.

          “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

          by 6412093 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 11:13:30 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Oil wouldn't be of much use if it wasn't (2+ / 0-)

        already composed of volatile organic compounds.

      •  Chemin, thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tinfoil Hat

        for the links.

        I am staggered that the first link suggests just venting the VOCs during rail transport of the crude.  How awful, discharging thousands of tons of uncontrolled VOCs to the air.

        That's considered a viable solution?  EEECH.

        How about the summer days when a unit train of 100 crude tanker cars sits and vents from a rail siding for a couple of hours, or a couple of days in a large City's railyard?

        There goes air quality.

        The proposed and under-construction refineries in ND will concentrate of producing diesel.  I wonder what they will do with the VOCs?

        “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

        by 6412093 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 11:20:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site