The North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) recently released the results of studies relating to the characteristics of Bakken crude oil and the standards required to transport crude oil by rail.

These studies in part respond to a safety alert issued on January 2, 2014, by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which notified “the general public, emergency responders, and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”

The May 14, 2014 report prepared for AFPM presents testing data that demonstrates that “Bakken crude is well within the safety standards for current rail car designs.” The data also shows that “Bakken crude is comparable to other light crudes and does not pose risks that are significantly different than other crudes of flammable liquids authorized for rail transport.”

Because Bakken crude is within the regulatory limits for pressure, flashpoint, boiling point and corrosivity for use in Department of Transportation (DOT) approved railcars, AFPM concludes that Bakken crude is a Class 3 Flammable Liquid and there is no need to create a new DOT classification for crude oil transportation.

At a conference on May 20, 2014, the NDPC released a study in which Bakken crude was found to be a typical Class 3 flammable liquid, with little variation throughout the entire basin. The data shows that Bakken crude is similar to other light crudes in average API gravity, average vapor pressure, a flashpoint below 73° Fahrenheit, average initial boiling point, and average sulfur weight. These characteristics fall within the design thresholds for the current DOT-111 tanker car. According to the NDPC, this study confirmed that Bakken crude is not significantly differed from other crude oil and poses no greater risks than other Class 3 flammable liquids authorized for rail transport.

Transportation of crude oil by rail has increased dramatically with the development of shale oil plays throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 1.4 million barrels per day of petroleum products were transported by rail in the first half of 2013, an increase of nearly 50% over the 927,000 barrels shipped in the first half of 2012.

For additional information on the transportation of crude oil by rail, visit some of our previous blog posts:


This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.