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Proposed rulemaking promises increased rail safety for crude oil, other flammable materials

Proposed rulemaking promises increased rail safety for crude oil, other flammable materials

We are at the dawn of a promising time for energy production in this country. This is a positive development for our economy, and for energy independence.

But the responsibilities attached to this production are very serious. More crude oil is being shipped by rail than ever before, with much of it being transported out of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation. In 2008, producers shipped 9,500 rail-carloads of oil in the U.S.; by just last year, that number skyrocketed to 415,000 rail-carloads --a jump of more than 4,300 percent.

The risks of transporting that crude, unfortunately, were made clear to me during my first week as Secretary last July, when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Immediately, we began taking a series of steps to improve the safe transportation of crude oil that has grown to include:

  • Safety Advisories, including our latest that calls for companies to avoid the use of DOT 111 tank cars;
  • Emergency Orders, for example, requiring companies to notify State Emergency Response Commissions that they're transporting crude oil through their towns and communities; and
  • Agreements with the industry to undertake a number of voluntary measures that immediately improved safety.

And now, today, we're building on that progress by proposing a rulemaking to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail, particularly crude oil and ethanol. The new, comprehensive rulemaking will open for public comment once published in the Federal Register at www.regulations.gov, and I urge you to read it and provide your feedback.

Photo of train pulling tank cars near a city

First, our rulemaking proposes to enhance tank car standards

Within two years, it phases out the use of older DOT 111 tank cars –unless they’ve been retrofitted for safety– for shipments of Packing Group I flammable liquids, including most crude oil. 

It also lays out three options for improving the design of tank cars built after October 1 of next year, the most comprehensive of which requires thicker, more puncture-resistant shells, enhanced braking, and rollover protection.

Additionally, we're proposing new operational requirements for what we're now defining as High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs). These include enhanced braking, speed restrictions, route risk assessments incorporating 27 different factors, and advanced notification of State Emergency Response Commissions.

And our new rulemaking requires a higher standard for classifying and testing mined gases and liquids.

Our proposal is supported by sound data and analysis. Because today, we’re also releasing a report with testing results from our inspection program, Operation Classification. That effort is ongoing, but what we’ve confirmed so far is that, compared to other crude oils, Bakken crude is on the high end of volatility.

This rulemaking also benefits from the 152,000 commenters who responded to our Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last September.

Rail tank cars in yard

The volume of crude oil being produced and shipped by rail in North America simply did not exist that long ago. As the facts have changed on the ground so rapidly in the past few years, we must also change how we move this energy.

That means acting aggressively --and responsibly-- to ensure that we transport these important, high-hazard flammables safely, which is exactly what we've done in the past year, exactly what we're doing today, and exactly what we'll continue to do.

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I have been speaking with a colleague who has introduced another safety method for reducing the explosion and fire risk during a CBR derailment not mentioned in the proposed rule making. It is my understanding there is a unique and affordably process that can be accomplished through a minor retrofitted to existing and new RR tankers that dramatically reducing the explosion risk during the derailment of CBR trains. After filing the RR tankers with crude to the weight limit, a blanket of inert gas (CO2 or Nitrogen) would be injected into the head space above the liquid level of the crude. Injecting heavier-than-air, inert gases will displace the atmospheric gases, which contain oxygen. The inert gas blanket will preclude the creation of a fuel-air explosive in the RR tanker head space when methane and other petroleum liquids out gas during transport. Additionally, the inert gas blanket in the RR tanker head space would be pressurized above atmospheric to counteract the out-gassing of methane and other petroleum liquids during transport.

I am glad the Department is pro-active and taking action to prevent further injury to people and to protect our environment. Until we are energy efficient with alternative energy sources and while we rely upon fossil fuels it is important to remain vigilante and protect the public and environment from further injury and damage. Glad to see aggressive action on this very important issue.

no trains should transport Bakken oil until all rail cars are upgraded and proven safe. There was in spring a train of 7 cars that overturned in the middle of Philadelphia. If the train had exploded University of Pennsylvania would have been wiped out. There are too many close calls and accidents and train shipments must be stopped until safer cars are available. Also all pipelines must be inspected because the break as in Mayflower AK.

So where IS the proposed rulemaking? I can't find a link on Regulations.gov as the press release suggests there should be!

I don't suppose that a pipeline would be considered as being safer than a truck or rail car. No, pipelines are evil, capable of completely destroying the environment whereas with just a little more regulation, trucks and rail cars are the way to go. (Yes, Sheldon, that's sarcasm) Wait! Doesn't EUROPE transport crude oil by PIPELINE? And don't we want to be just like Europe?
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