Flaring off the gas from oil filled rail cars in Bakken


I received this email and photo from someone in the Bakken Shale.

This photo was taken at the Dore MT rail car oil loading facility.

The flare burning is coming from the gas produced from the oil in the railroad cars ready to transport by rail. The flare burns 24 hrs a day, this much gas is coming off loaded rail cars with Bakken oil !!!!! and folks wonder why my cattle are dying and we are sick, we live next to the oil well sites, you can only imagine how much gas is coming off of them. The oil in these cars has been transported to the loading station by truck, as these trucks drive down our roads the tanks have relief valves that release the gas into the air while the oil is transported to the rail facility.

Could this also be happening in the Eagle Ford Shale? I bet no one has considered this source of emissions.

About Sharon Wilson

Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.


  1. says

    Based upon my time in the petrochemical plants of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana, flares are difficult windmills to tilt against (“tilting” as in Don Quixote).

    Generally, it is wise for a flare to have a continuous source of steam being fed into the flame to enhance the quality of its combustion. Doing such reduces some of the noxious byproducts as more of the gas is converted to less harmful output. Absent a source of steam and the flare’s output usually appears to be more visually, at a minimum, noxious.

    Given the above, the well operators are going to ask a very simple question: “Given that the well already exists, what would you have us do with the flammable gas or liquid that we cannot economically recover?” After all, activists and common-folk alike drove to their work and heated their homes using the output of the oil and gas producers.

    Based upon 26 years of experience amongst the petrochemical plants of Texas and Louisiana, I have personally experienced the dubious “thrill” of inhaling either raw hydrocarbons or their combusted remains. I was told that what I smelled was the “smell of money.” In my humble opinion, what is happening concerning the angst over flaring is that people that have never had to deal with the pollution levels that are now approaching those of the Gulf Coast are beginning to realize how noxious the environment becomes in the presence of oil/gas operations.

    Since some of these people have never been around large-scale petrochemical production, they are shocked at the level of air, land, and water contamination that accompanies it. That’s why so many of the wealthy folks fight new petrochemical production facilities in places other than the Gulf Coast, Southern California, or New Jersey. Let the peasants in those places deal with the noxious environmental pollution, there’s a masquerade ball at Jeeve’s house in the Hamptons on Friday night.

    I can tell you right now that you’re not going to beat the frackers on the issue of flaring. It is an accepted practice of their industry and has been for decades. Your best bet for holding the frackers accountable is water and land pollution, as well as the recent swarms of earthquakes due to injection activities. People react viscerally to that which they can see, touch, and feel. Trust me, after nearly 30 years near the petrochemical plants, air pollution does not produce the same level of visceral response as does soil and water pollution.

      • pak says

        “I’ve never heard of flaring gas off railcars before.”
        there’s lots you’ve never heard of

        the railcars have pressure relief valves, flaring helps to eliminate the gas. now if there were a pipeline the problem would be less

        but let us not forget the noxious fumes being expelled by the hundreds of thousands of cattle on the feedlots

  2. Andy Mechling says

    Thanks, This is very interesting.

    I wonder if that flare has been required by locals, or by the state, or by the railroad. My guess is that somebody made them do it.

    They must be collecting vapors from all of those railcars at once? With some type of an octopus-looking hose / manifold system. Or something?

    I’ve never seen anything quite like that, that I can recall.

    Kephry is right. This is not the area where industry is vulnerable. And if there was flaring at the wells near the rancher with the dead cattle . . . there might not be any dead cattle.

    My opinions on this matter are not necessarily popular ones. I do not pretend to speak for anyone other than myself on this issue.

    Our predicament is real. Something needs to be done with all this Sulfur. Our options are limited:

    Making Big Yellow Mountains of Sulfur is no good. The Rivers that are formed run sulfuric acid. Venting to Atmosphere is no Good. Dehydration Ponds Stink. Flaring releases Sulfur Dioxide and particulates, all of these things are true . . .

    This still doesn’t make the large scale injection of these fluids though UIC well program a good idea. I think the practice of Acid Gas Injection (AGI), in particular, seems like a highly dubious idea.

    Noibody Asked Me. If Somebody did, I would tell them we need :


    Year-round pyromaniac festival. Out there in the middle of nowhere, like where they hold the current Burning Man. I say we can put their little weenie roast to shame! in permanent fashion! in Bartertown for real.

    Now you know why nobody asked me.

    • says

      The flares in ND are a huge issue and certainly this landowner has suffered because of this. But, I think one important thing to note is this:

      The oil in these cars has been transported to the loading station by truck, as these trucks drive down our roads the tanks have relief valves that release the gas into the air while the oil is transported to the rail facility.

      If the flare is working properly, it’s not great for our air quality. If the flare is not working properly, it can be dangerous. It they just vent the VOCs, it’s extremely dangerous.

  3. Leonard Huff III says

    Hi Sharon,

    Based on my limited experience with been around flares and the natural gas associated with it around a drilling site, is that the flares are a emerengy relief value associated with a sudden “kick of natural gas” in the drilling program. They can not be plan for, but the operator of the drilling well has to have a plan for it. It will save lives. No one drilling well or project of wells is worht the money if a one human life is lost.

    Money is not the answer the problems that the planet that we live on we as humans have to deal with everyday.

    Have a Nice & a productive weekend!