Crude Must Be Tested Before Transport, DOT Says

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: Anthony Foxx speaks after being ceremonially sworn in as Transportation Secretary, at the U.S. Department of Transportation, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was officially sworn in on July 2 and is the 17th Secretary of Transportation in U.S. history. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Feb. 25, 2014, 12:38 p.m.

The Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment on Tues­day is­sued a re­quire­ment for prop­er test­ing and clas­si­fic­a­tion of crude sourced from North Dakota’s Bakken form­a­tion be­fore rail ship­ment in an ef­fort to boost safety in the wake of a series of re­cent de­rail­ments.

“Today we are rais­ing the bar for ship­ping crude oil on be­half of the fam­il­ies and com­munit­ies along rail lines na­tion­wide — if you in­tend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and clas­si­fy the ma­ter­i­al ap­pro­pri­ately,” Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx said in a state­ment.

Spot tests con­duc­ted by the de­part­ment’s Pipeline and Haz­ard­ous Ma­ter­i­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion have shown that mis­la­beling and im­prop­er clas­si­fic­a­tion of crude-by-rail ship­ments may be wide­spread. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says this is a con­cern be­cause Bakken crude may be more ex­plos­ive than con­ven­tion­al oil, a qual­ity that ne­ces­sit­ates strict over­sight to en­sure safe trans­port.

Crude-by-rail safety has come un­der the mi­cro­scope fol­low­ing a num­ber of ac­ci­dents in the past year in­volving trains haul­ing Bakken crude. At the end of Decem­ber a train car­ry­ing crude de­railed near Cas­selton, N.D., spark­ing a massive fire­ball.

Amid fiery ex­plo­sions and de­rail­ments, DOT has been the sub­ject of cri­ti­cism from law­makers and the private sec­tor for fail­ing to ex­ped­ite a rule­mak­ing that would im­prove the safety of DOT-111 tank cars, a type of car fre­quently used to move crude.

In re­sponse, the de­part­ment has moved for­ward with emer­gency or­ders, in­clud­ing the one is­sued Tues­day, to tight­en safety stand­ards in the ab­sence of a fi­nal rule­mak­ing. The or­der also states that ship­pers can­not use the low­est-strength tank car that would nor­mally meet ship­ping re­quire­ments.

“When you do ship it, you must fol­low the re­quire­ments for the two strongest safety pack­ing groups. From emer­gency or­ders to vol­un­tary agree­ments, we are us­ing every tool at our dis­pos­al to en­sure the safe trans­port­a­tion of crude,” Foxx said.

The emer­gency or­der ar­rives just pri­or to an over­sight hear­ing set to be held on Wed­nes­day by the House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­teee Rail­roads, Pipelines and Haz­ard­ous Ma­ter­i­als Sub­com­mit­tee that will ex­am­ine pas­sanger and freight rail safety. 

PHMSA ad­min­is­trat­or Cyn­thia Quater­man is one of the wit­nesses set to testi­fy at the hear­ing. 

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