Report to Congress on Crude Oil Characterization Research Study

In response to high-profile accidents in 2013-2014 involving movement of crude by rail , the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy (DOE/FE), the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (DOT/PHMSA), and Transport Canada, Transport of Dangerous Goods Directorate (TC/TDG) commissioned a research study by Sandia National Laboratories  (Sandia) to investigate the physical, chemical, and combustion properties of crude oils, and in particular the so-called “tight oils,” like Bakken crude, that comprised the majority of crude oil rail shipments in the U.S. at the time.

The DOE and DOT drafted this Report to Congress on the Crude Oil Characterization Study that responds to legislative language set forth in H.R. 22 “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” or the “FAST Act” (Public Law 114-94), that directs the Secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the Secretary of Transportation, to recommend regulations and legislation to improve the safe transport of crude oil. 

This study describes an experimental analysis of physical, chemical, and combustion characteristics of selected North American crude oils, and how these associate with thermal hazard distances resulting from pool fires and fireballs. The crude oil samples used for the experiments were obtained from several U.S. locations, including “tight” oils from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Permian region of Texas, and a conventionally produced oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve stockpile.

The results indicate that all the oils tested here have comparable thermal hazard distances and the measured properties are consistent with other alkane-based hydrocarbon liquids. The similarity of pool fire and fireball burn characteristics pertinent to thermal hazard outcomes of the studied three oils indicate that vapor pressure is not a statistically significant factor in affecting these outcomes.

Project Publications

Literature Survey of Crude Properties Relevant to Handling and Fire Safety in Transport

DOE/DOT Crude Oil Characterization Research Study, Task 2 Test Report on Evaluating Crude Oil Sampling & Analysis Methods

DOE/DOT Crude Oil Characterization Research Study, Task 2 Test Report on Evaluating Crude Oil Sampling & Analysis Methods, Revision I – Winter Sampling

Pool Fire and Fireball Experiments in Support of the US DOE/DOT Crude Oil Characterization Research Study