Lowey: Ban explosive crude from rail

The Journal News | May 6, 2015 | Post by Khurram Saeed

Moments before U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey was preparing to talk about her latest oil train safety initiative, she received word that a 109-car oil train had derailed in North Dakota, with several of the tank cars exploding and catching fire, leading to the evacuation of a town of about 35 residents.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey plans to introduce legislation next week that would ban freight trains hauling untreated volatile Bakken crude oil. The crude oil, which contains methane and butane, is more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. (Photo: File photo/AP)

"Can you imagine if it happened here?" Lowey said Wednesday morning at a CSX rail crossing in West Nyack used by 15 to 30 oil trains a week.

With improved tank cars set to be phased in over the next decade, Lowey said the oil placed inside them also had to be made less dangerous. On Monday, she plans to introduce a bill banning all interstate rail shipments of Bakken crude oil if they are not first treated to remove explosive gases.

The measure would affect a large percentage of trains carrying crude oil through Rockland and an increasing number nationwide. In 2014, more than 410 million barrels of crude oil were transported in nearly 500,000 carloads, with most coming from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Asked if a ban would be perceived as too drastic, Lowey, D-Harrison, said strong action was needed on oil trains.

"If they go up in flames, that's even more drastic and think of the lives that are lost," Lowey told The Journal News after a news conference featuring a number of local officials. "It's essential that the companies who produce the Bakken oil understand that this volatility is a matter of life and death."

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the American Association of Railroads, said it would review the legislation once it was submitted, adding the "freight rail industry recognizes a shared responsibility with shippers...to advance the safer movement of crude oil."

The DOT last Friday unveiled a sweeping set of new rules largely regarding the tank cars that haul crude oil across the nation. While it established new sampling and testing requirements of all unrefined petroleum-based products put into the tank cars, it did not address the volatility issue.

Lowey said her bill would specifically address crude oil with an average Reid Vapor Pressure volatility level greater than 8.5 pounds per square inch (psi). The measurement indicates how fast a liquid fuel evaporates and emits gasses, so the higher the number, the more combustible the fuel. Bakken crude has an RVP of 8.56 psi or higher compared to other crude oils such as Eagle Ford Shale (8 psi), Brent (6.17 psi), and Basrah Light (4.8 psi).

She wants the DOT to work with U.S. Department of Energy to create a national standard for the maximum volatility of crude to be shipped by rail.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, no single chemical or variable in Bakken crude has been proven to predict the likelihood of fire. Federal transportation and energy officials are researching what impact pre-treating crude oil will have on safety. There is no specific timeline.

In March, Sen. Charles Schumer joined other officials to call on the DOT to begin another rule-making process to cover the volatility issue.

Paul Gallay, president of the environmental group Riverkeeper, said it was "essential" to require companies to make Bakken crude less volatile, given the increasing frequency of oil train accidents. Since 2014, there have been derailments and fires in Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia and Canada.

"Interstate commerce does not mean a free for all," he said. "You can put reasonable restrictions on transportation of materials to make sure it's safe."

Twitter: @ksaeed1


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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Lowey: Ban explosive crude from rail on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2015-05-06 20:33:24 -0400
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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.