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How Many Crude Oil Scientists Will Testify At Congressional Science Committee Hearing on Bakken Crude? Zero

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Bakken petroleum: the substance of energy independence.

If you think that sounds like the latest branding from the oil industry’s public relations efforts, you might be right. However, it isn’t an ad — it is the title of the congressional hearing on Bakken oil on Tuesday.

When North Dakota congressman Kevin Cramer first announced he would hold this hearing, he promised to bring together the top scientists to discuss the properties of Bakken crude.

Here’s how he explained it when being interviewed by the 6:30 Point of View television show. 

I want three good solid scientists… consultants apart from all of the politicians and the presidential appointees. And I’ve promised them a very fair thorough review of the data and the evidence and the information. So that we can, you know, answer definitively and scientifically what is the volatility, if you will, of Bakken crude. How does it compare to other crudes?”

Congressman Cramer was apparently unable to find those three good scientists. Here are the five people who will be witnesses at the hearing.

Timothy P. Butters is the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Butters is an experienced fire fighting professional who served as the director of the industry-backed CHEMTREC®, a 24-hour hazardous materials emergency communications center.

Christopher Smith is a political appointee and principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Department of Energy. According to his official bio, prior to this position he worked for “two major international oil companies focused primarily on upstream business development and LNG trading, including three years negotiating production and transportation agreements.” Before that he was an investment banker with Citibank and JPMorgan.

Kari Cutting is vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, i.e. an oil industry lobbyist.

John Auers, executive vice president of Turner, Mason, & Company, is the only actual engineer at the hearing. However, his experience is not in the science of crude oil. According to his bio he is “experienced in facilities planning, computer operations, process control, refinery evaluations, refinery sales, and application of refinery linear programs.” His prior employer was Exxon.

Rouding out the five is Mark Zoanetti, deputy chief of special operations for the Syracuse Fire Department.

So for a hearing with the goal of determining the characteristics of Bakken crude oil, the experts include two firefighters, one oil industry lobbyist, a banker with oil industry experience and one engineer who just happens to work for the firm that issued the report saying Bakken is no different from other crude oils and does not require stabilization to make it safe for rail transport.

That report, The North Dakota Petroleum Council Study on Bakken Crude Properties, was funded by the lobbying organization whose vice president also happens to be testifying at this hearing.

Between calling the hearing “The Substance of Energy Independence” and managing to not include one petroleum scientist in the witness panel, it is clear that Congressman Cramer does not want to actually hear the science on Bakken crude oil.

“We need some standards. The industry should not be filling railcars with unstabilized crude,” Bill Lywood, who runs a consulting firm dealing in crude oil quality analysis, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

That is exactly the kind of thing experts say about Bakken crude — which is why no experts were invited to this hearing.

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Justin Mikulka is a research fellow at New Consensus. Prior to joining New Consensus in October 2021, Justin reported for DeSmog, where he began in 2014. Justin has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University.

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