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Petroleum Council hires firm to study Bakken oil: Dallas company to take samples from well sites, rail-loading facilities

Amid concerns from lawmakers and the public about oil transportation safety, North Dakota’s oil industry group has hired a firm to do an independent study of Bakken crude characteristics.

Dallas-based Turner, Mason and Co. will take multiple samples over several weeks at well sites and rail-loading facilities that give a “geographical cross section” of the Williston Basin, North Dakota Petroleum Council Vice President Kari Cutting said. Sampling is already underway.

The council hopes to learn about the volatility, initial boiling point, vapor pressure, flash point, presence of light ends and more with the samples.

It’ll give a progress update at its Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May, and will eventually share results with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and to the American Petroleum Institute. Companies are already sharing proprietary data with PHMSA, according to the Petroleum Council.

Ultimately, the industry hopes to develop its best practices for testing and classifying the oil.

“There seems to be a lot of public concern out there, and I think that since the NDPC and our members take safety very seriously — and we do take the concerns of the public very seriously as well … we’d like to enter into this study so we can allow the science to show decisions are based on the science,” Cutting said.

Testers will examine oil at different stages, like in newer wells against more mature ones, said John Auers, executive vice president of Turner, Mason and Co. and head of the study.

“We haven’t done this particular type of study and I don’t know that anybody has to be honest with you,” he said.

They’ll visit 12 sites and six rail depots in North Dakota and Montana.

“This whole issue of rail and crude has brought that out,” Auers said. “In reality, Bakken isn’t a whole lot different than a lot of other light crudes.”

While the Petroleum Council is paying the bills for the study, there’s an “arm’s length” between it and the firm so no one oil company has control over the samples or results, Cutting said.

An undisclosed lab will analyze the samples.

A fiery crash after a derailed grain train hit an oil train near Casselton late last year has drawn attention to the issue of oil transport safety, and the debate only heated up with a federal warning a few days later that Bakken crude may be more flammable than traditional heavier oil.

“The industry wants to really understand how to make everything as safe as possible in terms of transporting the crude oil,” Auers said. “First you have to understand the crude oil.”