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Fed Emergency Order: Test Crude for Flammability Before Shipping

The North Dakota oil moving by train through the U.S. is more volatile than other crude.

Federal officials have issued an emergency order mandating that crude oil from North Dakota must be tested for flammability before it can be shipped by rail.

The order comes after a series of explosive crashes of trains carrying oil from North Dakota's Bakken region, including a derailment in Quebec that killed nearly 50 people, and tests that show the crude is more volatile than previously known and more flammable than other varieties.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide -- if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Shippers who move oil by rail will now be required to test all Bakken crude, and label all crude as “Class 3, Packing Group I or II,” higher risk categories, to ensure the oil is shipped in sturdy tank cars. Companies will not be allowed to label Bakken crude “Packing Group III,” the lowest danger category.

An investigation by NBC News revealed federal regulators knew companies were labeling highly flammable Bakken crude as less flammable, and shipping it in unsuitable cars, as far back as June 2012, more than a year before the Quebec crash. But after the Quebec derailment, as well as crashes in Alabama, North Dakota and New Brunswick, the feds began warning of the volatility of the crude, releasing four emergency orders in less than a year.

Regulators this month also proposed fines against three companies that had allegedly mislabeled crude oil shipped by truck and train.

Both the oil and rail industries have also recently agreed to a number of voluntary measures to attempt to move crude more safely, including rerouting and slowing trains, and conducting more rigorous testing of crude.