DOT Emergency Order Targets Bakken Crude Oil Rail Shipments

Environment News Service | May 14, 2014 | Staff Report

Considering a series of oil train explosions and fires in the past six months, the U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT, today issued an Emergency Order requiring all railroads operating trains carrying large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about the operation of these trains through their states.

CSX train on fire in Lynchburg, Virginia, April 30, 2014 (Photo courtesy City of Lynchburg)

Bakken crude, extracted from shale underlying parts of Montana and North Dakota, is very volatile and contains high levels of combustible gases.

Most recently a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia April 30. Other recent oil train fires have happened in Alabama and Quebec.

Today, the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA, issued a Safety Advisory strongly urging those shipping or offering Bakken crude oil to use tank car designs with the highest level of integrity available in their fleets.

These agencies are advising crude oil carriers to avoid the use of older legacy DOT-111 or CTC-111 tank cars for the shipment of Bakken crude oil.

Up to 80 percent of the Canadian fleet, and 69 percent of U.S. rail tank cars are of the DOT-111 type.

“The safety of our nation’s railroad system, and the people who live along rail corridors is of paramount concern,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today’s actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars,” said Foxx.

Effective immediately, the Emergency Order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than one million gallons of Bakken crude oil, approximately 35 tank cars, in a particular state to provide the State Emergency Response Commissions notification about the expected movement of such trains through the counties in that state.

The notification must include estimated volumes of Bakken crude oil being transported, frequencies of anticipated train traffic and the route through which Bakken crude oil will be transported.

The Emergency Order also requires the railroads provide contact information for at least one responsible party at the host railroads to the State Emergency Response Commissions and assist the commissions to share the information with emergency responders in affected communities.

But the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a lobby group for oil refiners, said Wednesday, that Bakken crude is no more dangerous to ship than oil from other shale regions and is being correctly loaded and transported under existing federal rules. New rules are not warranted, the group maintains.

DOT is pursuing what Foxx calls “a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach” in minimizing risk and ensuring the safe transport of crude oil.

Over the last 10 months, the DOT agencies have undertaken more than a dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil. They launched “Operation Classification” in the Bakken region to verify that crude oil is being properly classified; and they have issued safety advisories, alerts, emergency orders and regulatory updates and conducted special inspections.

The agencies are moving ahead with a rulemaking to enhance tank car standards. And they are working towards agreement with railroad companies on a series of immediate voluntary actions they can take by reducing speeds, increasing inspections, using new brake technology and investing in first responder training.

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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.