Rail and Oil Industries Agree on Measures to Prevent Crude-by-Rail Explosions

U.S. DOT brokered a deal with energy and rail industries whereby both would take immediate steps to prevent the recent explosions involving the more volatile Bakken crude. While voluntary, actual regulations will take more than a year to approve.

2 minute read

January 20, 2014, 6:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

The meeting was convened by the U.S. Department of Transportation after a string of tank car explosions transporting oil from the Bakken formation throughout North America beginning last summer in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, followed by a Nov. 1 explosion in Aliceville, Ala.; Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, N.D. and a Jan. 7 explosion in New Brunswick, Canada.

"The voluntary changes, which include improving the safety of tanker cars, were announced after a meeting...that included top agency officials [including Secretary Anthony Foxx], executives from the big freight railroads and members of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry's chief lobbying group," write Betsy Morris and Laura Stevens.

However, the meeting was not entirely copacetic. Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the nation, stated that the rail industry "had already been proactive in setting tougher standards for tank cars, and...were urging regulators to do the same."  

The oil industry went further, blaming the railroads for failing to prevent derailments, and blasting regulators for not imposing new safety rules. "The DOT needs to do more than just host meetings," charged an API spokesman.

Among the measures agreed to:

Rail industry steps:

  • Study rerouting trains around high-risk areas in the next 30 days.
  • Work on speed-reduction plans in riskiest areas.
  • Address where to place locomotives to help prevent derailments.

Petroleum industry steps:

  • Share information on the content of crude oil.

Both agreed to:

  • Find recommendations on changing tank-car standards within 30 days.

For regulators to issue those new tank car standards, "it would take the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the unit of DOT that regulates hazardous-material transport, more than a year to institute new safety rules for tank cars," write Morris and Stevens.

However, within a month of the July 6, Lac-Mégantic disaster in Quebec caused by an unmanned, runaway, oil-unit train that cause 47 fatalities and the devastation of the downtown, PHMSA issued an emergency rule to Prevent Unintended Hazardous Materials Train Movement.

Note: Access to The Wall Street Journal may require subscription. This International Business Times article mentions the Wall Street Journal report and is a good substitute - open access.

Friday, January 17, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal

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