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Pending North Dakota oil rules may have limited W. Virginia disaster

WILLISTON, N.D. – This week’s oil train derailment and resulting explosion in West Virginia are likely to heighten scrutiny of new regulations pending in North Dakota, where the oil was produced, aimed at reducing the chance of such disasters.

It is unclear whether the roughly 70,000 barrels of Bakken oil on the train had been filtered to reduce the amount of volatile and explosive gases. Such filtering will be required under the new rules, which take effect in six weeks.

State officials say most production is already treated in some way, though not necessarily to the level required by the new rules, which environmentalists say are not tough enough.

Oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation has been described by industry and government officials as more potent than oil extracted from other shale formations due to unusually high concentrations of ethane, propane and other natural gas liquids (NGLs).

Recognizing that potency, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and state regulators last fall decided to require the more than 1.2 million barrels of oil produced daily in the state be filtered for NGLs starting April 1.

“It’s probably closer to regular diesel than what we think of as crude oil,” Dalrymple told Reuters in 2014. He insisted the new rules require every barrel of oil be filtered, along with regular testing.

Related: Derailed CSX train in W. Virginia hauled newer-model tank cars

The cargo in Monday’s accident was loaded onto a BNSF Railway Co locomotive at a facility owned by Plains All American Pipeline in Manitou, North Dakota, according to two transportation sources who asked not to be identified.

It was transferred in Chicago to CSX Corp, whose locomotives were hauling the tank cars when they derailed on Monday near Mount Carbon, West Virginia.

BNSF declined to comment and Plains did not respond to a request for comment.

The derailment, the latest in an 18-month span of crude-by-rail accidents, is sure to sharpen criticisms of using trains, rather than pipelines, to ship crude from North American oil fields.

Many North Dakotans have expressed unease with their state’s connection to the derailments.

About 20 of the train cars that crashed in West Virginia burned for days. While no serious injuries were reported, the blaze destroyed one house and prompted evacuations.

The goal of the filtering is to make North Dakota oil no more flammable than standard gasoline, Dalrymple said.


(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Terry Wade and Dan Grebler)