Friday, February 27, 2015

Notes on Coal Dust and Bakken Oil

Cliff Mass put up a post of a study he and a student completed regarding wind and potential coal dust at the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal strong-winds-coal-dust. Dr. Mass points out a variety of issues with this proposed project that I am sure is a delight to coal terminal proponents.

There is a picture of flying coal dust from a wind event that hit the coal terminal just to the north in Canada. Lest anyone suggest coal dust does not get blown off of coal piles, here is the Boardman, Oregon coal power plant:
Coal power plant in Oregon

While coal trains passing through Washington State got lots of early attention, the more recent large increase of oil trains all over the country has raised concerns regarding safety. With several refineries in northwest Washington, Washington State has seen a large increase in oil train traffic.

Oil train in Skagit County

The Bakken oil has proven to be a desirable oil for northwest refineries in Washington, and these refineries have shipping facilities that allow for transfer of the oil to ships as well. The Bakken oil contains a lot of volatile components relative to other oils. Part of the problem with the Bakken area is the lack of infrastructure. That lack of infrastructure includes impacts to communities in western North Dakota, but also means there is a large lag of facilities for handling the oil. Pipeline capacity is minimal and local field processing that takes place at more mature oil fields is not present. There is a lack a pipelines so that secondary natural gas is flared wasting-gas-for-short-term-gain and energy-notes-drill-and-burn-wasting-gas. Another impact of the rapid development of this field is that volatile butane and propane are not removed from the oil prior to shipping. More mature fields will separate these components out as they are easily removed and are valuable. A side benefit that is starting to become apparent is safety. Without the volatiles removed, the oil is much more likely to ignite and burn.

The scale of change in the Bakken has been remarkable. I noted that change when I was in western North Dakota a few years ago oil-boom-in-western-north-dakota

Red circles mark post 2005 wells. Prior to that time there were only two oil wells in this small section of the Bakken

Two pre-2000 well sites

Well sites have expanded to include service facilities to other well sites and the farm across road has added a camp area for workers


Ryan M. Ferris said...

Very nice post! I've heard "man camps" and in-town adult entertainment is where all the action is in North Dakota! But seriously, I don't know how to get this question answered: Shale oil is fundamentally a different product than conventional oil. We have found this out because of all the railcars that go boom! So if it is a different product (e.g. chemical composition), it would produce a different TRI (toxic release inventory) when refined. Literally, different types of hazardous chemicals would be released into the air as emissions. Where do I find information on the difference between the TRI profile of refining conventional oil versus shale oil? Shouldn't there have been EIS, NEPA, SEPA or some process when the refineries here originally started refining shale oil? Anybody?

Dan McShane said...

Ryan: I would say that shale oil us not fundamentally a different product. Bakken oil has been around for along time and the Bakken pulled out of shale via fracking is not really different - there is just a lot more of it.