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Dayton: North Dakota needs to make oil safer

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton latched onto a North Dakotan’s suggestion about how to make oil safer to transport earlier this month and on Tuesday asked North Dakota leaders to take action.

Dayton wrote to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture commissioner Doug Goehring asking that they, as Industrial Commission members, require oil pumped in the western part of the state to be conditioned before being shipped.

North Dakota officials are in the process of deciding what to do about oil conditioning, which removes gas from crude oil. Some people blame those gases for recent explosions of railcars carrying crude oil that originated in North Dakota

The idea behind letter came from a man who told Dayton about oil conditioning in a Sept. 2 meeting on rail safety in Moorhead. The governor asked questions about the process and expressed interest in it, then had his staff look into the process.

Dayton has held many such meetings around the state in an effort to make oil safer to transport. Nearly 50 oil trains a week, of about 100 cars each, go through Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation reports.

Dayton asked Dalrymple and other members of the commission “to quickly establish oil conditioning standards that will decrease the volatility of Bakken oil being exported from North Dakota. Minnesota is one of the primary routes for this highly volatile oil; however, our state receives little direct benefit from its transport.”

Minnesota legislators and Dayton earlier this year decided to spend several million dollars on providing oil safety training to local authorities, improving railroad crossings oil trains use and hiring more rail inspectors.

“I recognize the challenge of regulating an industry that has so rapidly expanded in your state and your obligation to support your state’s thriving economy,” Dayton wrote to the North Dakota officials. “But not only will conditioning improve the safety of Minnesota residents and those along rail lines, it may also open up additional markets for the export of Bakken oil.”

Texas already requires oil to be conditioned, Dayton said.

Minnesota State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, tweeted that Dayton is taking the wrong approach: “Sandpiper Pipeline would remove 2,000 railcars from railroad system in Minnesota. A better solution than advising North Dakota Gov what 2 do.”

The tweet refers to the proposed Sandpiper pipeline from northwest North Dakota to Superior, Wis. The Minnesota portion of the route is awaiting state approval in Minnesota.

The Minnesota governor convened the Moorhead and other rail safety summits after North Dakota, Quebec and other spectacular accidents involving trains carrying Bakken crude oil. Minnesota officials say the North Dakota oil is more volatile than other oil, although others dispute that claim.

Dayton’s spokesman said that the two governors have not discussed the oil conditioning idea with each other.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.