North Dakota environmentalists want oil companies to reduce volatile gasses in Bakken crude. Regulators, however, say they’re taking a different tack that’s cheaper for the industry and still improves safety.
The gasses remain a flashpoint for producers, environmental and safety groups concerned about transporting the highly flammable Bakken crude. Oil train shipments from the Bakken have skyrocketed in recent years, heightening the worries.
Environmental groups have been pushing the state to require that producers install equipment to stabilize the crude using a process that heats the oil to a higher temperature to release more gasses.
North Dakota officials, however, say the more stringent heating requirement would cost oil companies as much as $2 per barrel.
Instead, state inspectors starting April 1 will check oil at well sites to make sure the vapor pressure runs no greater than 13.7 pounds per square inch of Reid Vapor Pressure, the measurement standard of volatile gases in crude oil. Oil involved in a recent West Virginia derailment and explosion had a vapor pressure slightly higher, 13.9 psi.
The North Dakota standard is tougher than the 14.7 psi federal standard for crude oil, although it’s still more volatile than gasoline sold in Minnesota in the summer, which has a maximum vapor pressure of 9.
Regulators say their method will maintain safety but cost an estimated 10 cents a barrel, compared to the $2 per barrel for the stabilization gas removal process. Companies found violating the new regulation can be fined $12,500 per day.