Oil Train Explosions: The Importance of Removing Volatile Gases - INFOGRAPHIC

Oil producers may be failing to properly separate fiery gases like propane from the crude. Graphic explains how separation works and why it matters.

A gas flare is seen at an oil well site outside Williston, North Dakota. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

About 70 percent of Bakken crude is shipped by rail to refineries in other regions of the country, passing through the heart of urban centers and environmentally sensitive wetlands. Three of those oil trains have exploded in the past year raising questions about the volatility of the Bakken crude and the safety of shipping it by rail.

After eight months of searching, regulators and industry still have not come up with an answer. Some oil and gas experts suspect producers might be failing to properly separate flammable "wet" gases like propane from the crude before shipping it. They cite three possible reasons: a shortage of gas-processing plants in the area; added profitability for producers if they "fluff up" their crude shipments with natural gas liquids, which are worth less per-barrel than crude; and/or carelessness.

MORE: Too Much Propane Could Be a Factor in Exploding Oil Trains

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