Tag Archives: North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

Washington Republican asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

Repost from American Shipper

Lawmaker asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has requested the Department of Transportation study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.
BY BEN MEYER |FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

U.S. House Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider further regulation of freight trains carrying crude oil.

Beutler earlier this week sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Federal Railroad Administrator Sara Feinberg and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez asking DOT to study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.

Specifically, Beutler asked DOT to consider whether interspersing oil tank cars with non-volatile commodities might make them less likely to catch fire in the event of a derailment.

Beutler’s letter was largely prompted by a growing number of destructive derailments involving crude oil trains in recent years, the largest of which claimed the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013.

Back in June, a Union Pacific Corp. train carrying crude oil derailed near Mosier, Ore., about 68 miles east of Portland, causing some of the tank cars to burst into flames and spill oil into an adjacent section of the Columbia River. That train was en route from Eastport, Idaho to Tacoma, Wash. carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation, which is more flammable and dangerous than other types of crude oil.

“Although far less catastrophic than it could have been, the [Mosier] derailment highlighted the need for strong safety measures to address shipments of volatile and hazardous commodities through the Columbia River Gorge – whether related, or unrelated to oil shipments,” Beutler wrote in the letter. “Subsequently, I am writing to request information on dispersing tank cars carrying oil, or other hazardous materials, with non-volatile products throughout trains.”

She asked DOT to consider whether continuous blocks of oil tank cars increases the risks of combustion, potential benefits of requiring disbursement of cars carrying flammable materials throughout a train, and possible effects on combustibility of use of newer DOT-117 tank cars.

In addition, Beutler asked if federal regulators have studied speed limits reduction for oil trains as a way to mitigate the risk of combustion.

Washington state lawmakers last month adopted new regulations surrounding the transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline that officially take effect Oct. 1. Developed by the Washington Department of Ecology at the request of the legislature, Chapter 173-185 WAC, Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline Notification, established reporting standards for facilities receiving crude oil transported by rail and pipeline, and for the department to share information with emergency responders, local governments, tribes and the public.

On the federal level, DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, in August released final rules amending the federal hazardous materials regulations related to the transport of crude oil and ethanol by rail.

The rule changes, first introduced by DOT in May 2015 as required by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, include an enhanced tank car standard and an “aggressive, risk-based” retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol.

In addition, the rules require trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids to use a new braking standard; employ new operational protocols such as routing requirements and speed restrictions; share information with local government agencies; and provide new sampling and testing requirements DOT said will “improve classification of energy products placed into transport.”

The Senate in May unanimously passed the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act, which aims to provide additional training for first responders, specifically for handling freight train derailments that include hazardous materials such as crude oil.

Originally sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the legislation establishes a public-private council of emergency responders, federal agencies and industry stakeholders tasked with reviewing current training methods and prescribing best practices for first responders to Congress. The council will be co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and PHMSA. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced a companion bill to the RESPONSE Act in the House of Representatives.

“Currently, oil trains are traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and my focus is on ensuring federal regulations are making these shipments as safely as possible,” Beutler said in a statement. “Long lines of oil cars are becoming a more familiar sight in our region, and if breaking them up into smaller blocks will better protect our citizens, the Columbia River and nearby forests, we should put a federal standard in place – quickly.”

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Heitkamp Presses OIRA To Finish Oil Train Rules; DeFazio presses for info

Repost from Roll Call

Heitkamp Presses OIRA To Finish Oil Train Rules

By Roll Call Staff, March 13, 2015 9:55 a.m. 
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, is urging OIRA to "quickly finalize" regulations on rail shipment of crude oil. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, is urging OIRA to “quickly finalize” regulations on rail shipment of crude oil. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Oh Ira, why can’t you work more quickly?” That might’ve been what tunesmith George Gershwin said to his lyric-writing brother Ira Gershwin. But for transportation purposes, it’s essentially what Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., said Thursday to OIRA – pronounced “oh-Ira” – the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, within the Office of Management and Budget.

OIRA is where proposed regulations go for a final vetting and it now has under review a series of proposed rules on more robust oil tank cars and safer transport of crude oil.

In a letter to OMB director Shaun Donovan, Heitkamp urged OIRA to “quickly finalize” the regulations so that shippers and first responders can know what they must do to more safely ship crude oil. Much of that oil comes from the Bakken formation in Heitkamp’s state and in Montana and is carried by rail to refineries on the East Coast and the West Coast.

She cited the December 2013 derailment, explosion and fire in Casselton, N.D., noting that while no one was killed in that incident “we were lucky… but we cannot depend on luck.”

Meanwhile House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore., has asked the Government Accountability Office to report to him on what railroads and the federal government are doing to prepare for an oil train derailment and fire “particularly in the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas”

DeFazio specifically asked the GAO to examine what the railroads are doing to preposition “critical resources necessary to respond to spills in both urban and rural areas, including forest lands, with limited road access, prone to catastrophic fire, or at-risk due to long-term drought” and to preposition “critical resources to contain and clean-up oil spills into rivers or other water bodies.”

As the Oregonian reported last year, “Eighteen oil trains a week move along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.” Part of the gorge is a national scenic area and it borders national forests.

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New reports on freight backlogs – railroads accused of oil favoritism

Repost from The Minneapolis StarTribune

New reports on backlogs bring renewed criticism of railroads

By: Tom Meersman and Jim Spencer, October 24, 2014
Critics say they prove oil favoritism; railroads say numbers are misleading.
Grain elevators seen from a passing train. With continued delays and backlogs for grain shipments, railroads have been accused of playing favorites. Photo: GLEN STUBBE , Star Tribune

Farming groups and other businesses blasted railroads for poor service and favoritism Thursday after seeing new reports about backlogs and waiting times for rail cars.

Rail critics say new data that the federal Surface Transportation Board has begun collecting suggests that the railroads are giving preference to oil shipments, creating long delays for other freight.

A table from BNSF Railway Co., the region’s dominant railway for grain shipments, reported 747 loaded grain cars that had not moved in more than five days during the week of Oct. 12-18, and only six crude oil cars that had delays of that length.

Gary Wertish, vice president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said the numbers confirm what many farmers and grain elevators have witnessed all year: oil trains on the move constantly, and grain trains few and far between.

“This is the source of our complaints all along,” Wertish said. “Obviously they’re playing favorites with crude oil.”

The regulators early this month ordered the railroads to assemble and submit weekly reports about their performance, following months of complaints from grain shippers, coal suppliers and utilities, ethanol dealers, taconite processors, and Amtrak executives.

The businesses have claimed that delays in rail service over the past year have cost them and their customers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost time, late supplies and higher prices.

In submitting the first reports, railroads cautioned against drawing quick conclusions from the data.

Canadian Pacific Railway’s president and chief operating officer, Keith Creel, urged regulators in a letter “to step back and consult with all the stakeholders” before continuing the process.

The federal order “imposes a significant regulatory burden without articulating how providing this information will improve the overall rail supply chain in the United States,” Creel wrote. Canadian Pacific serves Minnesota, North Dakota and other northern states.

Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have followed the issue closely, and all three issued statements Thursday. Klobuchar said the railroad data are needed to understand the problems and “guide decisions” that will reduce delays.

“More transparency in rail operations hardly seems like a tough burden to bear considering what rail shippers in Minnesota are going through,” Franken said.

Canadian Pacific and other railroads filed the reports with the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates the industry. After months of complaints and several hearings, the Board issued an order on Oct. 8 for large railroads to report performance details each week.

The reports cover such things as train speeds, dwell times at terminals, weekly cars on line by car type, weekly total number of loaded and empty cars that have not moved in more than 5 days, coal unit train loadings, grain cars by state and cargo, and number of days late for all outstanding grain car orders.

Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, said the report is “unfortunate news” because BNSF pledged weeks ago that it would catch up with its backlogs before harvest, but has not done so.

“It looks like it’s business as usual,” Zelenka said. “The numbers seem to indicate that for whatever reason, the railroads have an easier time moving oil on this congested system than anything else, and I wonder why.”

A study last July estimated that transportation problems between March and May cost Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat farmers more than $100 million in increased freight rates, higher storage costs, lost sales and penalties for products not delivered on time.

Several utilities have also had trouble with delayed and irregular coal deliveries and some have dialed back their power plants and taken other steps to conserve coal stockpiles.

Xcel Energy’s director of fuel supply operations, Craig Romer, said Xcel’s power plants served by BNSF are far behind in the amount of coal they store on site. “Our inventories are in terrible shape,” he said, referring to Xcel’s large Sherco plant in Minnesota and four other coal-burning plants in Colorado and Texas.

“In July, August and September, the railroad actually performed worse than it did in the polar vortex in the middle of the winter,” Romer said. The winter rail problems were related to weather, he said, and the summer disruptions were caused by BNSF track maintenance.

Romer expects regular service to resume when rail construction projects end in a few weeks. “But there’s such a backlog of volume to deliver, it will be several months before they [BNSF] actually turn this thing around,” he said.

BNSF officials have said repeatedly that the company does not give preference to oil shipments over other commodities, and that the railroad is moving more agricultural products than ever before in the region. In a statement late Thursday, the company said that fewer oil cars have delays because oil is moved mainly in unit trains built for speed and efficiency and headed for a single destination.

About half of BNSF’s 27,000 rail cars are also used for 110-car unit trains, the statement said, but the other half are on trains that are broken up as they move across the country and put in rail yards where they are mixed with other cars with different cargoes and sent to various destinations.

“With such a large number of single cars in ag service, the number of cars held [waiting] will always be higher than a commodity traveling almost exclusively in unit trains,” the company said.

In its report, BNSF also noted that if a rail car is held “for more than 48 hours or even 120 hours, it does not necessarily mean that the car will not be delivered in a timely manner or even within the initial service plan.”

Because the weekly reporting system is new and needs to be refined, the company said, “we caution against drawing firm conclusions based upon the absolute values reported in BNSF’s report.”

Staff writer David Shaffer contributed to this report.
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