Bakken crude may be more flammable than traditional oil – US federal agency says

Following the derailment of a crude-carrying train in North Dakota earlier this week, US federal officials say Bakken oil may be more flammable than traditional crude.

In an alert issued Thursday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) warned the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that "recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil."

The PHMSA conducted preliminary inspections of derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Lac-Megantic in Quebec – all involving Bakken crude.

Monday's accident caused a series of explosions and the evacuation of a small town. There were no fatalities but a similar incident several months earlier in Quebec killed 47 people.

In November the PHMSA issued a safety advisory reminding producers of the importance of properly classifying and describing hazardous materials.

As part of an ongoing investigation, the Agency has been conducting unannounced inspections and testing of crude oil samples to ensure proper classification and packing. The agency has also found it necessary to expand the scope of their testing "to measure other factors that would affect the proper characterization and classification of the materials."

Final test results are expected in the near future.

This isn't the first time a government agency has considered the possibility that Bakken crude may be more flammable than regular oil. In August, following the deadly explosion in Lac-Megantic, Canada's Transportation Safety Board said it was looking into how Bakken crude reacts.

“I’m not an expert in this domain, but it seems that the crude oil reacted in an abnormal way,” a safety board official said at the time, as reported by the National Post. 

The Bakken formation has played a big role in the US' emergence as major oil producing country. In North Dakota and Montana, the Bakken produced nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day in Novemeber.