By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON Feb 4 Three oil companies operating
in North Dakota were fined $93,000 on Tuesday for wrongly
classifying fuel shipments in the first sanctions since a series
of fiery derailments put the energy industry under a spotlight.
The Department of Transportation said Hess Corp,
Marathon Oil Corp and Whiting Petroleum Corp
were cited for wrongly classifying cargo tanks that were hauling
crude oil from the field to a railhead.
Fuel shipments must be designated with a hazard class to
alert emergency responders in the event of an accident. Eleven
of eighteen samples of one survey were mislabeled, the DOT said
in a statement.
"The fines we are proposing today should send a message to
everyone involved in the shipment of crude oil: You must test
and classify this material properly," said Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx.
A spate of explosive derailments, including one in Quebec
last July which killed 47 people, has led to concerns over the
safety of shipping crude oil by rail and improper labeling.
Officials have already warned that some fuel found in North
Dakota's energy patch, the Bakken, could be more volatile and
explosion-prone than other crude oil and that shippers should
Typically, crude oil carries a 'hazard class 3'
classification and can be shipped in a standard tank car. The
shipments are further assigned a 'packing group' to alert to
dangers - that portion of the shipping paper was faulty, the DOT
While the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration (PHMSA) has been testing crude samples for months
and issued several industry warnings, Tuesday's action is the
Phmsa Administrator Cynthia Quartersman said the fines
reflected "initial findings" and that officials would scrutinize
the corrosivity, pressure and other traits of Bakken crude.
The DOT did not specify which companies would be expected to
pay what share of the $93,000 fines but by any measure the sums
were small for large energy companies.
Officials from Hess and Marathon could not immediately be
reached for comment.
Jack Ekstrom, a spokesperson for Whiting, said that the
company had not yet been contacted by the DOT about a possible