Wednesday, February 26, 2014
U.S. DOT Orders Tests on Rail Shipments of Oil
Federal regulators ordered shippers to properly test and classify crude oil from the productive Bakken region before loading it onto freight trains, a move meant to tighten regulatory standards after a spate of derailments and explosions that highlighted the hazards of carrying crude oil on rails.
This is the fourth such emergency order by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in the last seven months related to the booming oil-by-rail trade. The Transportation Department is under pressure to beef up the safety of these trains, a business that has soared in the last two years thanks to the growth of domestic oil production in North Dakota.
The order will help ensure that emergency responders are fully aware of the content of the tank cars in the event of a crash or derailment. Failure to comply is subject to civil fines of up to $175,000 a day as well as criminal pursuits that carry jail terms of up to 10 years.
Recent accidents have drawn attention to the risks of shipping large quantities of crude oil in unpressurized railcars. The danger was highlighted in July when a runaway train derailed in Quebec, killing 47 people.
On Friday, regulators announced that the major railroads had agreed to eight voluntary measures that would reduce the risk of rail shipments, including traveling at lower speeds and adding more braking mechanisms on freight trains.
The latest order directed shippers to label crude oil as Packing Group I or II hazardous material. These terms designate the strongest safety groups used by shippers and require the use of “more robust tank cars,” according to the department.
The order effectively limits the shipping of oil to the most commonly used type of tank cars, known as DOT-111s. Even those cars, however, are known to break up too easily in a crash. Regulators are also working on new, tougher tank car standards. (NYT, 2/26/2014)