The USDOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Safety Alert on January 2, 2014 following recent crude oil fires from train accidents where Bakken crude oil was involved. The Safety Alert is attached here. The Agency states that initial tests from the recent North Dakota accident involving two BSNF trains, and Lac Megantic Quebec in June 2013, indicate Bakken crude "may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil."
Yesterday's Safety Alert also encompasses the ongoing "Operation Classification" effort of PHMSA and the FRA, where the agencies have been conducting unannounced field tests to verify proper classification of crude oil shipments. In particular, the Agencies are concentrating on "Packing Group" classifications of shipments; i.e. does the chemical composition of the oil actually in a tank car reflect the packing group classification (and placard) on the car. Packing Groups are the defined classes of hazardous materials under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), which classify a material's flashpoint and boiling point, among other things.
PHMSA states that as "Operation Classification" is an on-going effort, it will share its sampling results of Bakken crude and oil from other locations. However, PHMSA reminds the offerors of crude oil that they should not delay their own testing (and classification under 49 CFR 173.22) of oil shipped while PHMSA's effort is underway.