Feds launch ‘Bakken Blitz’ of oil-by-rail inspections

“’Operation Classification’ primarily involves shipments from the Bakken and activities include unannounced spot inspections, data collection and sampling as well as verifying compliance with federal safety regulations. These activities are underway and taking place at strategic terminal and transloading locations that service crude oil,” spokesman Kevin Thompson said.


Two branches — the FRA and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — are jointly conducting the inspections that began in recent days, according to The Associated Press and other outlets.

PHMSA head Cynthia Quarterman, speaking to reporters at a Thursday rail safety meeting, dubbed the inspections the “Bakken Blitz,” according to several accounts.

“We need to make sure that what is in those tankers is what they say it is,” Quarterman said in this Reuters account.

Surging oil production in the Bakken region has vaulted North Dakota past Alaska as the country’s second-largest oil-producing state. Only Texas pumps more.

The July 6 derailment and explosions in Quebec, which killed 47 people, have spurred new concern on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about oil transportation hazards.

However, the FRA said planning for the new inspections began in March after FRA audits and PHMSA field observations showed “inconsistencies” with crude oil classification and other federal safety regulations.

More from Reuters on the inspections:

Highly combustible, light crude from the Bakken region is particularly dangerous, Quarterman said, and inspectors will make sure the fuel is properly labeled and handled with care.

Officials want to make certain that those responsible for the shipments know how dangerous their cargo is.

“The flashpoint needs to be taken into account,” Quarterman said, referring to the combustibility of flammable liquids that can vary according to the type of crude. 

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