As scientists evaluate the petroleum products being shipped around the world from the Bakken deposits in North Dakota and Canada, they have found the reason for recent explosions that killed dozens in Canada.
As crude oil warms up, the pressure from the contents of the crude will vary depending on the gas content trapped inside the oil. In Bakken crude, the percentages of volatile pentane, butane and ethane are significantly higher than any other sources. The number of explosions of oil trains has spiked since the flow of Bakken crude began.
Reid Vapor Pressure measures volatility
Labeled the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), the measurement is stated in pounds per square inch of pressure at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. As the temp rises, the pressures do also. Last year we experienced a number of fatal explosions from trains carrying Bakken crude.
The Canadian government (TSB) tested the product and determined the explosive content of the raw product is as volatile as unleaded gasoline, but noticeably more corrosive. The idea of piping this explosive, corrosive product across America’s heartland seems less wise now than before we knew what was in it. As temps rise, so do the pressures.
The explosion in Lac-Megantic last July killed 47 people and leveled 40 buildings in an instant. Gas from within the crude oil reached flashpoint and ignited through spontaneous combustion. The corrosiveness of the fracking compounds may also have played a part by weakening the integrity of the rail-car.
Experts define problem within the product
Paul Bommer, a petroleum engineering professor from University of Texas at Austin, points out: “Oil, even at very low pressures … still has some natural gas dissolved in it, and that gas will try to form a gaseous state every time there’s a pressure drop.”
Another expert petroleum engineer echoes this notion “Shale requires better handling than crude oil that is very heavy because it burns easier,” says Mohamed Soliman, former Halliburton engineer and currently the chairman of the petroleum engineering department at Texas Tech University.
Analysts foresee a looming battle over the liability issue. The obvious liability is huge, and the fight will take place over whose responsibility it is – oil or train or pipeline, heating up and exploding from the gaseous content under varying pressures streaming across our bread basket.