Category Archives: Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

Former exec with major coal transporter nominated to head pipeline safety agency

Repost from ThinkProgress

Former exec with major coal transporter nominated to head pipeline safety agency

With no pipeline experience, big learning curve expected.

By Mark Hand, September 11, 2017, 4:59 PM
FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2010, file photo, a natural gas line lies broken on a San Bruno, Calif., road after a massive explosion. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pleaded not guilty Monday, April 21, 2014, to a dozen felony charges stemming from alleged safety violations in a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that leveled a suburban neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. As survivors of the blast looked on, attorneys for California’s largest utility entered the plea in federal court in San Francisco to 12 felony violations of federal pipeline safety laws. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

President Donald Trump intends to nominate a long-time executive with the freight rail industry to serve as administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a regulatory agency that oversees the nation’s extensive pipeline network.

For the past decade, Howard “Skip” Elliott held the title of group vice president of public safety, health, environment, and security for CSX Transportation, a Jacksonville, Florida-based subsidiary of CSX Corp. Altogether, Elliott has a 40-year history in the freight rail industry, although he does not have any government service experience. Elliott’s nomination to head PHMSA is subject to Senate confirmation.

One industry observer noted Elliott will have a big learning curve, coming from the railroad industry, since pipeline safety regulation and oversight is complicated with many diverse stakeholders and controversial issues, including the definition gathering lines and pipeline integrity management requirements.

Pipeline industry officials, though, praised Trump’s nomination of Elliott, citing his extensive experience and leadership in freight rail safety. “We urge the president to nominate, and the Senate to hold a hearing and quickly confirm this qualified nominee,” Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) President and CEO Don Santa said in a statement Monday. INGAA is the primary industry trade group for U.S. natural gas pipeline companies.

PHMSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, was created in 2004 and is composed of two offices: the Office of Pipeline Safety and the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety.

According to analysis by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a pipeline watchdog group, new natural gas pipelines are failing at a rate slightly above gas pipelines built before the 1940s. Natural gas transmission lines built in the 2010s had an annual average incident rate of 6.64 per 10,000 miles over the time frame considered. Those installed prior to 1940 or at unknown dates had an incident rate of 6.08 per 10,000 miles, SNL Energy reported.

CSX trains have been in numerous accidents in recent years. In early 2014, a tanker of crude oil and a boxcar of sand nearly toppled over a bridge in Philadelphia after a freight train owned by CSX derailed. Later that year, an oil train operated by CSX derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Virginia. Less than 24 hours later, about 10 cars of a CSX coal train went off the tracks, though all of the cars remained.

Elliott is a recipient of an Association of American Railroads award for lifetime achievement in hazardous materials transportation safety. He is a “pioneer and leading advocate” in developing computer-based tools to assist emergency management officials, first responders, and homeland security personnel in responding to a railroad hazardous materials or security incidents, the White House said in a statement released Friday.

CSX is the largest coal transporter east of the Mississippi River and operates a railroad network that runs through the heart of the Appalachian coal fields. CSX also transports crude oil from the Midwest to refineries and terminals along the Hudson River, New York Harbor, Delaware River, and Virginia coast.

Drue Pearce, who is serving as acting administrator of PHMSA, will assume the title of deputy administrator if Elliott is confirmed. She previously served as federal coordinator for Alaskan Natural Gas Transportation Projects, a government position created to streamline the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states. The pipeline was never built.

In the Obama administration, Marie Therese Dominquez headed PHMSA from June 2015 through January 2017. Dominquez worked in government prior to joining PHMSA, serving as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers and working at the National Transportation Safety Board. Cynthia Quarterman, who worked as a lawyer for pipeline companies, including Enbridge Inc., served as PHMSA administrator from 2009 to 2014. Earlier in her career, Quarterman served as director of the Minerals Management Service in the Clinton administration.

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California Attorney General Calls on Trump to Close Loophole that Exposes Communities to “Bomb Trains”

Press Release from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
[Editor:  See also KQED California Report, “AG Becerra Wants Trump Administration to Make Crude-Carrying ‘Bomb Trains’ Safer”  Also, see the NRDC blog on this story.   And … sadly … see a similar story from December, 2015.  – RS]

Attorney General Becerra Calls on Trump to Close Loophole that Exposes Vulnerable California Communities to “Bomb Trains”

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov
  • Without Action, California Could Be Exposed To Freight Trains Carrying Highly Flammable, Highly Explosive Crude Oil
  • San Bernardino-Riverside And San Luis Obispo Among Regions Bearing Greatest Potential Risks

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is urging the Trump Administration to immediately close a loophole to prevent highly flammable, highly explosive crude oil from being shipped by freight rail via so-called “bomb trains” through communities in California, including the highly populated San Bernardino-Riverside and San Luis Obispo regions. High hazard areas for derailments would exist along every freight rail route in California. Many of these areas are also adjacent to California’s most sensitive ecological areas.

“Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad train tracks,” said Attorney General Becerra. “A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable. I urge the Trump Administration to act immediately.”

So-called “bomb trains” are responsible for several catastrophic rail accidents in recent years, including the 2013 explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

In comments submitted to federal regulators, Attorney General Becerra called for immediate action that would require all crude oil transported by rail in the U.S. achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability. Attorney General Becerra joined attorneys general from Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York and Washington in calling for this requirement.

The comments were filed in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Earlier this month, as part of his efforts to protect vulnerable California communities, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit in federal court that seeks to protect state residents from dangerous pollution that results from coal mining. Coal mined on public lands is transported by train through California and exported from ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Richmond and Stockton — areas next to several vulnerable communities. The transport of coal in open-top rail cars, as well as its storage and handling at export terminals, emits dangerous pollution. These emissions can result in a wide variety of serious health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, cardio-vascular diseases and cancer.

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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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