Oil-Train Crashes Spur Safety Scrutiny

Scorched oil tankers remain on July 10, 2013 at the train derailment site in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Edward Bukhardt, CEO of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways Inc.,(MMA) told reporters Wednesday that the train was left running while the engineer spent the night sleeping in a hotel in Nantes, adding that the engineer was following standard 'industry practice.' The train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic overnight Friday, causing a massive fire and explosions that killedat least 15 people, with another 45 still missing.
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
Clare Foran
Jan. 3, 2014, 3:12 a.m.

Rail-safety ad­voc­ates and mem­bers of Con­gress are call­ing for stricter tank-car safety stand­ards in the wake of a ma­jor oil-by-rail ac­ci­dent this week, an ap­peal that took on new ur­gency Thursday with the re­lease of a fed­er­al ad­vis­ory that oil from North Dakota’s Bakken form­a­tion may be more flam­mable than oth­er types of crude.

A train car­ry­ing crude oil from the Bakken ran off the rails near Cas­selton, N.D., on Monday, lead­ing to a vol­un­tary evac­u­ation of nearby res­id­ents. The ac­ci­dent oc­curred when freight cars car­ry­ing crude oil struck a train that had de­railed earli­er in the day. No in­jur­ies were re­por­ted but the crash sparked an in­ferno and re­ignited con­cerns over the po­ten­tial dangers of ship­ping oil by rail.

The event is the latest in a series of ac­ci­dents in­volving rail trans­port of crude in re­cent months and has spurred a re­newed push for over­sight and reg­u­la­tion of rail cars trav­el­ing to and from oil-rich states.

“We be­lieve the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment needs to act to im­prove stand­ards for the design and con­struc­tion of tank cars,” said Patti Re­illy of the As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Rail­roads, a trade group for ma­jor North Amer­ic­an freight rail­roads. “It is our hope that they step up and de­mand the safest tank car pos­sible both for new con­struc­tion and for ret­ro­fit­ting of the ex­ist­ing fleet.”

With do­mest­ic oil-pro­duc­tion sur­ging due to ad­vances in drilling tech­niques, oil-by-rail ship­ments have ex­pan­ded ex­po­nen­tially. This has caused pro­ponents of stricter rail-safety stand­ards to step up ef­forts to spur re­form. De­bate con­tin­ues, however, over which branch of gov­ern­ment should take the lead in tight­en­ing stand­ards.

A few months after a train car­ry­ing North Dakota crude de­railed in Lac-Megant­ic, Que­bec, in Ju­ly, the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment’s Pipeline and Haz­ard­ous Ma­ter­i­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued an ad­vance no­tice of pro­posed rule­mak­ing to strengthen reg­u­la­tions for rail trans­port of haz­ard­ous ma­ter­i­als. And on Thursday, PHMSA cir­cu­lated a safety alert that Bakken crude may be more likely than oth­er vari­et­ies of crude to ig­nite in the event of a rail crash.

“Rail safety is a na­tion­al pri­or­ity, and we have been ag­gress­ively tak­ing ac­tion on mul­tiple fronts to mit­ig­ate risks,” said Jean­nie Shif­fer, a Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment spokes­wo­man. “[As the] rule­mak­ing moves for­ward, we will con­tin­ue tak­ing ac­tion whenev­er ne­ces­sary to en­sure the safe trans­port­a­tion of haz­ard­ous ma­ter­i­als by rail.”

But fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ory re­form will take a long time to crys­tal­lize, and law­makers are look­ing to fill the void.

“Right now, we have slow-mov­ing fed­er­al bur­eau­cracy and ma­jor push­back from private in­vestors who own the rail cars, and both those things add up to a need for con­gres­sion­al ac­tion,” Rep. Peter De­Fazio, D-Ore., a mem­ber of the House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Sub­com­mit­tee on Rail­roads, Pipelines, and Haz­ard­ous Ma­ter­i­als, said in an in­ter­view Thursday. “First, Con­gress should man­date that with­in a cer­tain peri­od of time you can’t use a DOT-111 car [com­monly used to trans­port crude oil] that hasn’t been ret­ro­fit­ted, and that would be a short-term solu­tion while we de­cide on a new, bet­ter design for these cars; and then that new design would be man­dated along with a phaseout of the old cars.”

De­Fazio ac­know­ledged a dif­fi­cult road ahead, though. “I don’t think Con­gress has the where­with­al to man­date the new design, but I cer­tainly in­tend to ask for hear­ings on this is­sue,” he said. “That’s all I can do.”

On the oth­er side of Cap­it­ol Hill, a spokes­man for the Sen­ate Com­merce, Sci­ence, and Trans­port­a­tion Com­mit­tee said Chair­man Jay Rock­e­feller, D-W.Va., is mon­it­or­ing the is­sue.

“The series of re­cent de­rail­ments and ser­i­ous ac­ci­dents in­volving crude oil is alarm­ing and de­mands closer scru­tiny,” the spokes­man said. “Re­gard­less of how crude is shipped, Sen­at­or Rock­e­feller be­lieves that it must be done in the safest man­ner pos­sible.”

What We're Following See More »
BIGGEST SHAKEUP OF ALL?
Bannon Is Out at the White House
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

First, it was Sean Spicer. Then Reince Priebus. Now, presidential adviser Steve Bannon, perhaps the administration's biggest lightning rod for criticism, is out. “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.” That's not to say the parting of ways isn't controversial. Bannon says he submitted his resignation on Aug. 7, but earlier today, "the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon."

Source:
INITIATIVE TARGETED GUN RETAILERS, OTHERS
Trump Ends Obama’s “Operation Choke Point”
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Trump administration has ended Operation Choke Point, the anti-fraud initiative started under the Obama administration that many Republicans argued was used to target gun retailers and other businesses that Democrats found objectionable. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told GOP representatives in a Wednesday letter that the long-running program had ended, bringing a conclusion to a chapter in the Obama years that long provoked and angered conservatives who saw Choke Point as an extra-legal crackdown on politically disfavored groups."

Source:
LIBERALS RAISE CONFLICT OF ISSUE QUESTIONS
Gorsuch to Deliver Speech at Trump Hotel
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Liberal groups are raising questions about a speaking appearance Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch plans to make next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Gorsuch is scheduled to headline a luncheon celebrating the 50th anniversary of conservative group The Fund for American Studies on September 28, days before the next SCOTUS term begins October 2. Steve Slattery, a spokesman for The Fund for American Studies, said Gorsuch had nothing to do with venue choice, which was made long before the group asked Gorsuch to speak."

Source:
SAYS TRUMP JUST ATTACKING REPUBLICANS
Former Top Aide to McConnell Says GOPers Should Abandon Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
“YOU CAN’T CHANGE HISTORY, BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT”
Trump Defends Confederate Statues in Tweetstorm
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login