Propane May Play a Role in Crude-by-Rail Explosions

A derrick drills for oil in Weld County, Colorado. Ninety percent of wells in Colorado are fracked. 
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Clare Foran
March 6, 2014, 2 a.m.

Ad­dit­ive amounts of pro­pane in nat­ur­al gas could be a factor in a series of re­cent crude-by-rail train-car ex­plo­sions, ac­cord­ing to In­side Cli­mate News.

Nat­ur­al gas sourced from North Dakota’s Bakken form­a­tion may con­tain high­er levels of pro­pane, bu­tane, and meth­ane than gas pumped from oth­er re­gions of the coun­try. And these sub­stances could make the crude more ex­plos­ive in the event of an ac­ci­dent. Oil pro­du­cers are sup­posed to sep­ar­ate the pro­pane from the gas at the well­head. In­dustry ex­perts warn, however, that pro­du­cers may be fall­ing down on the job.

“There is a strong sus­pi­cion that a num­ber of pro­du­cers are cheat­ing. They gen­er­ally want to simply fill up the bar­rel and sell it — and there are some who are not overly wor­ried about qual­ity,” Alan J. Tron­er, pres­id­ent of Hou­s­ton-based Asia Pa­cific En­ergy Con­sult­ing, which provides re­search and ana­lys­is for oil and gas com­pan­ies, told In­side Cli­mate News.

The Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment is­sued a safety alert in Janu­ary warn­ing that Bakken crude could be more volat­ile, and more prone to ex­plo­sions, than con­ven­tion­al crude. And last month it re­leased an emer­gency or­der say­ing that ship­pers must prop­erly test and la­bel the chem­ic­al com­pos­i­tion of the crude be­fore it is loaded onto rail­cars.

Fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors, law­makers, and in­dustry will take up the is­sue of rail safety in a hear­ing held Thursday by a Sen­ate Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee that’s sure to spot­light crude-by-rail safety.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.