RON SCHALOW: Are Casualties Acceptable In Your Town?

Last June (2014), North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called disaster agencies and emergency personnel together for a “tabletop exercise” to practice a response to a possible Bakken oil train derailment, and the subsequent explosions. They estimated there would be more than 60 deaths if such an incident occurred in Bismarck, N.D. (65,000 pop.) or Fargo, N.D. (110,000 pop.). — Prairie Biz Magazine

And even if costs are merely a shadow of an afterthought, just for the record: “The D.O.T. and the Department of Environmental Conservation estimate the foam required to combat an oil train fire would cost around $40,000 for each car.” — Bakken.com

Recently, the North Dakota Industrial Commission decided to keep its vapor pressure requirement for crude oil at 13.7 psi and allowing less testing. Of course, they did, but …:


The 13.7 figure was plucked out of a 5-gallon fish bowl by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, on Dec. 9, 2014. The new regulation became effective April 1, 2015, but it was merely window dressing to placate somebody. The oil companies? I guess, because, as a supposed safety measure, to make the Bakken oil trains not explode every time they derailed, the new maximum vapor pressure was and is a joke.

Because the trains still blow up. And 90 percent of the Bakken oil tankers that have derailed and released fireballs in all directions — killed people, burned buildings, and fouled water — were below, sometimes well below, the 13.7 standard. So what’s the damn point if the limbo stick for producers is 10 feet high?

After the new Vapor Pressure rule, a Bakken oil train derailed and exploded near Heimdal, N.D., in May 2015. By the time photographers got to the scene, just left of nowhere, the flames were still 100 feet high. The Vapor Pressure was 10.8, so the 13.7 was proven as a failure within weeks.

If you as owner tell your bartender to throw out any customer who drinks over 13.7 beers, but he gives her the toss at 10.8 beers, if they’ve pounded just 10.0 beers, or if Humphrey sipped on 9.33 cans or even if he only drinks 7.83 Grain Belts, you’ve numerous issues.

A) Someone you know can’t count. B) You’re losing scads of money. C) Your enterprise is operated on the on debunked “Random Number Theory” and you’ll be shut down faster than a Trump Casino. D) Things are wrong with you, man. Get help.

The last incident took place on June 7, 2016. Below is a paragraph from an earlier column.

  • “The fire chief of Mosier, Ore., is still whiter than usual, and shaking, just at the thought of what the damage would have been, when a single sheared off track bolt caused the derailment, fire and explosion of a Bakken oil train, which would have burnt down the entire town had the wind been blowing like normal through the Columbia River Gorge. Spilled oil gummed up their sewage system, but none reached the river, so yay for abnormal weather conditions.”

Well, that’s quite a while ago. Maybe the explosion problem has disappeared. Maybe, but why think that? It was five years between the exploding of three tankers full Bakken crude in a short mixed cargo train outside of Luther, Okla., in 2008, and the tragic human cremation of 47 people disaster at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, so the Bakken enhanced fluid trains don’t derail and detonate on schedule.

The number of oil trains has decreased, as the pipeline capacity increased, but experts say that trains will always be an option because they allow flexibility in shipping to where the highest price can be found.

No pipelines are in the works to cross the Rockies to the Pacific, where much of the Bakken crude is exported. Many towns along the ocean want nothing to do with the bubbly stuff.

And pipelines go one way and most have more stringent vapor pressure requirements than the state. For crude, the allowable Reid Vapor Pressure according to the Feds is 10.0. So evidently, the oil people can lower the vapor pressure if they please.

In fact, North Dakota Petroleum Council underwrote a study, “The North Dakota Petroleum Council Study on Bakken Crude Properties,” produced by the energy consulting firm. Turner Mason & Company, which claimed that the vapor pressure of Bakken crude was 7.83 psi, which could easily be the case if they stripped out everything but the carbon, hydrogen and small amounts of nitrogen, oxygen and various metals. I’m not a chemist, but you get what I’m saying.

So let’s just scrap all of this purposely confusing vapor pressure stuff for the oil trains and do what the North Dakota Petroleum Council did for their report. Strip out every element but the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. The crude oil. And leave no propane, butane, methane, ethane, or other natural gas liquids. Propane alone has a vapor pressure of 208, so you do the math.

One of the authors of the study said the oil wouldn’t even light, which is pretty much what we wild-eyed public safety advocates have wanted.

  • “If I threw a match into Bakken crude oil it would not ignite it.” —John Auers, executive vice president of Turner, Mason & Company (the lobbying entity for the Bakken oil producers) who wrote the report for the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

So, it’s possible. Then, it must be done. It’s too much of a gamble, otherwise. The cost is not the taxpayer’s problem. The poor oil barons don’t have the right to run a dangerous, but fixable, product through our committees. Pssst. Nothing is going to change.

Anyway, Auers said this in front of the Science, Space and Technology Congressional Committee, so we know it’s true, on September 9, 2014, a meeting that then-congressman Cramer claimed to have set up, specifically to lend cover to the oil industry for blowing up people and property. For his part, he invited lobbyists, instead of scientists, to testify. Either way, it was sham.

  • “At the end of the first session, the question of Bakken volatility was still up for debate, along with the scientific credibility of the witnesses.” — Shale Plays Media

Really? These clowns can’t figure this out? I know half of them may think the earth is only 6,000 years old, but geez.

Pictures and video shows the explosions and aftermath of all Bakken train derailments up to Mosier. Except for Aliceville, Ala., which only has eyewitness accounts of 300-foot tall balls of fire and photos of the wreckage. Have an Ichthyologist take a gander.

No scientists or congressional hearings were needed to determine the danger of a Bakken oil + NGLs train, when a child could see what happened every time there was a derailment previous to Cramer’s shameless government funded lobbying. Evidence of it all is on Google images and YouTube.

Was/is it Cramer’s contention that large bomb detonations are safe? It seems so. I hope he doesn’t tell Trump about the safe explosions. That poor meathead doesn’t need any ideas.

  • “Cramer (now senator Kevin) said after 10 years on North Dakota’s Public Service Commission, he was confident the state’s oil was safe.” — The Minot Daily News Sept.12, 2014

Oh, so that’s how you get Harold Hamm to be your campaign finance chairman.

Who were North Dakota regulators, lawmakers, and officials that didn’t see giant red flags as threats to the citizens, instead of a public relations problem? All but one of them and she moved.

Lynchburg, Va., April 30. Right in town, there were towering fireballs before the tankers tipped into the James River. Yummy for the river life.

Outside of Casselton, N.D., Dec. 30, 2013. (10.0 rvp) Well-known. Too many lawmakers still think of Casselton as the first event, but it was the fourth.

And some people were/are in cahoots. Who knows how it works. Maybe one-third of the Industrial Commission has to call in a report to the Petroleum Council every hour. Or not. I have no clue.

But I do know that a Dec. 5, 2013 email with the text below was sent from the Capitol to the head cheese of the North Dakota Petroleum Council because I have it. If I have it, lots of others do, too. Important people were copied to the message …


Just a thought …

Almost daily now, there are media reports, such as the following, that make claims about Bakken volatility, corrosiveness, etc: https://www.newtimesslo <dot> com/sanluisobispo/on-the-fast-track-phillips-66-is-looking-to-ship-volatile-bakken-crude-oil-through-slo-county-by-train-but-opposition-efforts-are-gaining-st/Content?oid=2937064

I wonder how helpful it would be for someone like the EERC to publish a formal report about what exactly what Bakken is or isn’t (also compare to WTI, heavy Canadian, ethanol, gasoline, etc.)? I would suspect that there are many companies with big projects hanging in the balance would benefit from such as report and be willing to support it financially.”

The state guy doesn’t think that the oil guys don’t know the composition of their product? That’s adorable. But besides collusion between industry and government, the concern is about getting bad press.

Nobody said, “Gosh, it’s too bad about those people who died. And we’ve had two other explosive episodes, so maybe we should regulate a bit. Perhaps fix the problem, so this doesn’t keep happening, maybe. It will cost a lot of money, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Instead, N.D. taxpayers watch their legislators give the oil and incendiary gas comminglers a tax cut.

Outside of Aliceville, Ala., Nov. 8, 2013. Delicate water ecosystems are poisoned.

Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 3, 2013. (9.33 rvp) Sixty-three tank cars spilled more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings destroyed.

  • “It took ‘more than 1,000 firefighters from 80 different municipalities in Quebec, and from six counties in the state of Maine’ to help with evacuations and fire-fighting efforts in the small town (Lac-Megantic) of only a few thousand people, according to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report.” — Bellingham Herald

Outside of Luther, Okla., Aug. 22, 2008. Fireballs caught on video by a news helicopter from Oklahoma City. McClatchey and The Associated Press reported the source of the crude as Fairview, Mont.

And Mount Carbon, W.V., Feb. 16, 2015, (13.9 rvp) and Galena, Ill,, March 5, 2015

Extra knowledge:

One didn’t explode, because a spark didn’t reach a gas, or the train hadn’t traveled far enough to allow the natural gas liquids (NGLs) to gasify.

A Bakken oil train derailed east of Culbertson, Mont., in July 2015. It didn’t explode. Rob Port almost had a hard attack. He thinks the media that is attracted to explosions is out to give the Bakken operators a headache by reporting on huge explosions. And then they have the nerve to tell everyone where the oil came from. And call it Bakken. Port never turns off his stooge setting. So he rushed to his keyboard and wrote this ruby of a headline …

“Is A Bomb Train Still A Bomb Train If It Doesn’t Go Boom?”

Rob thinks an activist is responsible for for the term “bomb train,” which makes him mad because he hates activists, but it was coined by somebody in the industry as dark humor. I’ve answered the fourth-string talent at the Forum before with, “Is A Grenade Still A Grenade If It Doesn’t Go Boom?”

Is a 90 percent denotation rate something to brag about now.

I’m not counting the next one although it got a lot of people worked up.

Bakken crude tankers tipped to a 45-degree angle off the tracks July 24, 2014, and everyone in Seattle rightfully freaked out.

  • “Railroad crews have righted two of the three oil cars that derailed early Thursday morning under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge.” — K5 News
  • “The train with 100 tanker cars of Bakken crude oil was heading for a refinery at Anacortes and pulling out of the Interbay rail yard at 5 mph when five cars derailed, said Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas.” — K5 News

“5 mph.”

“When energy companies started extracting oil from shale formations in South Texas a few years ago, they invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make the volatile crude safer to handle.

In North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil field, nobody installed the necessary equipment. The result is that the second-fastest growing source of crude in the U.S. is producing oil that pipelines often would reject as too dangerous to transport.

Now the decision not to build the equipment is coming back to haunt the oil industry as the federal government seeks to prevent fiery accidents of trains laden with North Dakota oil. Investigators probing crude-by-rail accidents, including one a year ago that killed 47 people in Quebec, are trying to determine why shale oil has proved so combustible — a question that has taken on growing urgency as rail shipments rise.

Only one stabilizer, which can remove the most volatile gases before transport, has been built in North Dakota, and it hasn’t begun operation, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal.

  • “Stabilizers use heat and pressure to force light hydrocarbon molecules — including ethane, butane and propane — to form into vapor and boil out of the liquid crude. The operation can lower the vapor pressure of crude oil, making it less volatile and therefore safer to transport by pipeline or rail tank car.” — Wall Street Journal

“The state’s (North Dakota) three-person Industrial Commission seems likely to adopt a set of industry-designed best practices. Simply put, North Dakotan crude will have to be lightly pressure-cooked to boil off a fraction of the volatile “light ends” before shipment.”

This conditioning lowers the ignition temperature of crude oil — but not by much. It leaves in solution most of the culprit gases, including butane and propane.

Even the industry itself says conditioning would not make Bakken crude meaningfully safer for transportation, though it would make the state’s crude more consistent from one well to another.

  • “The only solution for safety is STABILIZATION, which evaporates and re-liquefies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners. Stabilization is voluntarily and uniformly practiced in the Eagle Ford formation in Texas …” — Railway Age
  • “… it is becoming self-evident to many outside of the oil business that the nuisance of exploding cargo will not be solved before crude is DE-WEAPONIZED at the well site by cooking off contaminating volatile gases (stabilization).” — Railway Age

One thought on “RON SCHALOW: Are Casualties Acceptable In Your Town?”

  • Dick Anderson January 28, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Have you ever had a positive comment or day in your life?


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