The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent safety investigation agency charged by Congress to investigate significant accidents, can not make regulations; they can only recommend them. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration, both located within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) are two key federal regulators that have the authority to approve recommendations suggested by NTSB after they assisted Canada's Transportation Safety Board in a comprehensive investigation of the July 6 oil-train derailment and conflagration in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The joint recommendations of the two nations' safety boards are unprecedented.
"Railroads, energy companies, refiners and shippers have been at odds over how to solve the safety issues that have arisen from surging oil production in the Bakken Shale," write Betsy Morris, Paul Vieira and Laura Stevens, as was evident when key industry players came together last week with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to agree on voluntary, preventative measures. Key lobbying groups are the American Association of Railroads (AAR) and the American Petroleum Institute (API). NTSB's recommendations (see their press release) include:
While NTSB did not offer new recommedations on oil tanker rail cars, referring to earlier ones made in March, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada did address shortcomings of early DOT-111 cars. [See their press release.]
Industry reactions were mixed. While AAR said it was in "in full agreement" (see press release), API appeared to defer responsibility to the railroads. "(T)he first step is to prevent derailments by addressing track defects and other root causes of all rail accidents," it said in a statement. Coincidentally, the Federal Railroad Administration on Jan. 24 issued its "Final Rule to Improve Rail Inspections."
"This is a complex multi-faceted issue requiring extensive collaboration between regulators, the railways that own the locomotives and tracks, shippers which supply the tank cars and the producers of the product."
On a related note, Keystone XL pipeline backers pointed to the NTSB recommendations to support a planned spur from North Dakota to their pipeline that could carry up to 100,00 barrels of oil a day, about one tenth of the state's daily production. Most of the remainder will continue to use rail transport.