Feds propose tougher rules on shipping of Bakken crude

Times Union | July 23, 2014 | Column by Eric Anderson

Slower speeds through urban areas, phase-out within two years of the oldest tank cars used to carry Bakken crude, and a risk assessment of the routes Bakken crude trains use to reach refineries, ports and other destinations are among new rules being proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The public and stakeholders — railroads, oil companies, shippers — will have 60 days to comment on the proposals, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

“Given the urgency of the safety issues involved, I currently have no intention of extending it,” Foxx told reporters.

The volume of Bakken crude being shipped from North Dakota oil fields by rail has jumped over the past five years, from 9,500 tank carloads in 2008 to 415,000 last year. As much as a quarter of all Bakken crude flows through the Port of Albany, where it is transferred to barges, tankers and other oil trains for delivery to refineries along the East Coast.

The proposed rules include several options, including limiting oil trains to 40 mph everywhere, in urban areas of more than 100,000 population, or in the more limited number of so-called high-risk urban areas, as determined by the Department of Homeland Security. The last option wouldn’t include the Capital Region.

Three options for new tank car standards also are being proposed.

The new rules will apply to trains carrying 20 or more tank cars. In the Capital Region, trains of as many as 120 tank cars are common.

The dangers of Bakken crude first became evident when a runaway train careened off the rails in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, last July, exploding and killing nearly four dozen people, as well as incinerating much of the small community’s downtown.

Subsequent tests have confirmed the risks the oil poses to communities through which the oil trains pass.

“Bakken crude oil is on the high end of volatility compared to other crude oils,” Foxx said.

Federal investigators also found instances where Bakken crude was being classified incorrectly as being less risky.

“We did find there was improper classification and we issued fines,” Foxx said, although he didn’t identify the companies that were cited.

Asked whether the Bakken crude could be stabilized before it’s shipped, Foxx said the refining infrastructure need to do that “is not as present in North Dakota.

“We are open to industry providing more refinement in this area,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has been pushing for safer transport of crude and other volatile cargoes, welcomed the proposed rules.

“These desperately needed safety regulations will phase out the aged and explosion-prone DOT-111 tanker cars that are hauling endless streams of highly flammable crude oil through communities across the country and in New York, Schumer said. “Safety is job number one, and the DOT should be commended for heeding our call and including a package of commonsense safety measures – like speed limits, new braking controls, and standards for a safer tank car – that will further safeguard communities along freight lines.

“These safety rules should be finalized, implemented, and enforced as soon as possible.”


Do you like this post?

Showing 2 reactions

@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2014-07-23 13:46:50 -0400
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Feds propose tougher rules on shipping of Bakken crude on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2014-07-23 13:46:50 -0400
Feds propose tougher rules on shipping of Bakken crude
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.