BNSF Railway has told Nebraska regulators that it has decreased the number of trains carrying crude oil through Nebraska.

The Texas-based railroad, owned by Omaha’s Berkshire Hathaway, reported to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency this month that 12 to 18 trains a week are carrying 1 million gallons or more of crude per train on a route that enters Nebraska in Dakota County and runs south before turning east near the Cass-Sarpy County border and leaving the state. That is down from as many as 30 trains on that route in April, according to NEMA.

As for other BNSF oil trains that also enter in Dakota County but continue south past the Cass-Sarpy line, the volumes are unchanged from April, at between two and seven trains a week, the railroad told NEMA.

The trains carry oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana.

Nebraska has been getting additional volume because of track maintenance work in other states, said BNSF spokesman Andy Williams. “Some of that work is complete and trains are returning to those tracks,” Williams said.

Transport of oil by train is under heavy scrutiny after a series of fiery recent derailments in the United States, none of them fatal so far. The lower volume of BNSF oil trains corresponds with decreased production from the Bakken fields, a response to lower world oil prices.

Since June 2014, when the railroad began disclosing the information as required by the U.S. Transportation Department, the total of oil trains is up from about three trains per week.

Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, operated no oil trains in Nebraska, according to NEMA’s 2014 report.

Crude-by-rail volume is tied to production in the Bakken formation, which never produced more than 200,000 barrels a day until 2009, when hydraulic fracturing methods succeeded in freeing additional oil from the rock formations. Then additional production outstripped pipeline capacity, ushering in widespread transport by rail. According to the Association of American Railroads, BNSF and the six other Class I railroads hauled 9,500 carloads of oil in 2008. In 2013, that vaulted to 407,761 carloads.

Now U.S. oil production is falling, thanks to about a 40 percent drop in the price of benchmark West Texas intermediate crude over the past year. U.S. oil producers have shuttered about half the rigs they were running a year ago, bringing the total to 894 last week, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

In North Dakota, 80 rigs were operating last week, Baker Hughes said, down from the 174 in operation a year earlier.

In March, the Bakken formation was producing about 1.3 million barrels a day. That’s forecast to fall by 31,000 barrels a day in June, to 1.27 million, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Overall U.S. oil production this year is forecast to come in at 530,000 barrels a day, down from an earlier projection of 550,000 barrels, the EIA says.

So far this year, there have been five oil train derailments leading to fires. One injury was reported from the derailments, two of which involved trains operated by BNSF, the largest U.S. railroad by ton-miles and employer of 5,000 Nebraskans.

Contact the writer: 402-444-3197, russell.hubbard@owh.com

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