Feds expected to finalize oil-train rules in May

Times Herald-Record | February 11, 2015 | Column by James Walsh

The federal Department of Transportation’s completion of rules governing the construction and use of the controversial DOT-111 tank cars for oil transport will come in May, about four months later than a Congressional mandate.

Railroad tank cars are pulled by CSX trains near the Newburgh waterfront last month. ROBERT G. BREESE/For the Times Herald-Record

It’s a matter closely watched in the Hudson Valley, where trains, each holding millions of gallons of volatile Bakken crude oil, regularly traverse populated areas, as well as close to the Hudson River and its tributaries.

Explosions and deaths occurring when the thin-skinned tank cars derailed elsewhere have heightened concerns. In Newburgh, the oil trains ride on an elevated section of track looming over the city’s revived waterfront.

“It’s just taking way too long,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, said this week. “We needed the regulations yesterday. Everyone agrees we need new cars, and we need them fast.”

The need for tighter control of the shipments was emphasized in a draft impact analysis of the tank cars and proposed regulations released last summer by the federal DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In 2009, according to the report, there were 10,800 carloads of crude oil shipped by rail. That figure ballooned to 400,000 carloads nationally by 2013.

Increased shipments coincided with oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken region.

“Every day that goes by without the rules, we have unsafe trains in the Hudson Valley,” Maloney said.

One distributor, Global Partners of Waltham, Mass., is contracted to supply 50,000 barrels of crude daily to the Phillips 66 refinery in Linden, N.J. Global and Buckeye Partners of Houston have New York’s permission to bring nearly 3 billion gallons of crude annually to the Port of Albany. It travels from there by train and barge.

“This is a highly complex issue, consuming massive staff time, scientific study, dialogue with stakeholders and experts, and coordination across (U.S.-Canada) borders,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement last week.

“The department has and will continue to put a premium on getting this critical rule done as quickly as possible,” Foxx said, “but we’ve always committed ourselves to getting it done right.”

Expected regulations cover widely diverse issues, ranging from the construction of new tank cars intended for hazardous cargo, to the speeds of the trains and the routes they follow. Enhanced braking mechanisms and details for retrofitting existing tank cars have also been studied by the DOT.

The DOT last week submitted its draft of the final rules to the White House, where it’s to clear the Office of Management and Budget by late April. Maloney has asked the budget office to complete its review within 30 days.

It’s unknown at this point what the final regulations will be, DOT spokesman Gordon Delcambre said.

The slow pace of formulating those regulations also tests the patience of environmental watchdogs like Riverkeeper.

“The federal government has the authority to get the worst cars off the rails immediately,” said Riverkeeper attorney Sean Dixon.

Dixon said Riverkeeper was also concerned that the new rules will only apply to tank cars carrying the volatile Bakken crude. Ones removed from that service could be repurposed to transport tar sand oil from Canada. That crude is less volatile, but heavier and susceptible to sinking in water.

“So we’ll still have the leak factor,” Dixon said.

jwalsh@th-record.com

http://www.recordonline.com/article/20150211/News/150219813

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.