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North Dakota Considers New Rules to Make Rail Transport of Oil Safer

North Dakota's energy regulators are considering new rules to make the state's "Bakken" crude oil, which has been involved in a number of explosive train crashes, safer to move by rail.

Proposed standards announced Thursday by the state Department of Mineral Resources follow a series of fiery rail accidents over the last 18 months that have made ballooning number "crude by rail" shipments highly controversial across the country.

The new standards would require oil producers to remove volatile gasses from the crude oil before loading it into rail tankers. That would make the cargo far less explosive in the event of an accident, according to state regulators.

"Our crude oil leaving North Dakota will behave like the gasoline you put in your car," said Lynn Helms, head of the Department of Mineral Resources.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission has the final say on the proposal, which North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who sits on the commission, called a "working draft." Members said they supported the adoption but wanted more information on enforcement and violations, according to a press release. The commission will take public comment through next week, then hold a special meeting in November to consider the final draft order, which could take effect as soon as Feb. 1.

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The flood of oil coming out of the Bakken region as a result of the "fracking" boom has fueled a debate over safety. Earlier this year, federal regulators issued a safety alert warning that the oil from the region “may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”

The oil industry has consistently said that Bakken oil is no more flammable than other types of "light" crude coming out coming out of Texas and elsewhere and has opposed additional restrictions on its shipment.

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But a report Thursday in the Wall Street Journal cast new doubts on the testing methods used to support that view, quoting a number of industry experts and Canadian officials as saying the industry may be seriously underestimating the risk of combustion.