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

Did lack of oversight lead to Santa Barbara spill?

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Benicia Independent Editor: This analysis of a pipeline failure might also shed some light on the lack of adequate State and Federal oversight of crude by rail.  No PHMSA administrator for 7 months?!  Only 3 state inspectors!?  Information not shared with first responders at the County level!?  Gosh … where have we heard this before?  – RS]

EDITORIAL: Did lack of oversight lead to Santa Barbara spill?

San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 2015

All-too-familiar images of picture-postcard California beaches befouled with crude last month revealed that regulatory oversight is sadly lacking. But whom to blame? The accountable parties are missing in action.

First missing party: The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration has been without an administrator for more than 210 days, thus exceeding the legal limit for an acting director to serve. The May 19 rupture of the Plains All American Pipeline at Refugio and El Capitan state beaches in Santa Barbara County heightened concerns the federal regulators weren’t protecting the public safety or sensitive lands.

On Thursday, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, sent a letter to the pipeline administration, declaring the Santa Barbara oil spill response “insufficient,” and giving the agency two weeks to answer questions about spill response plans, legal authority to require automatic shutoff valves, and cleanup and response efforts that ignored local knowledge and expertise. On Friday, the Obama administration announced it had a nominee, lawyer Marie Therese Dominguez, for the pipeline administrator’s job.

Second missing party: Oil transport and spill oversight in California is overseen by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, but there are only three full-time inspectors. Inspectors would leave for higher paying industry jobs as soon as the state trained them. In 2012, the fire marshal requested the authority to pay inspectors more — inspectors are paid out of a state account funded with fees paid by the oil companies — but the Legislature said no, and state oil transport oversight was ceded to the federal agency in 2013.

Third missing party: Santa Barbara County had an agreement with the pipeline owner that was overridden by federal law. Pipeline operators must file oil spill response plans with the federal agency, but due to terrorism concerns, they aren’t available to the public (including first responders who would have needed local knowledge).

Clear lines of oversight, more inspectors, and a requirement to update spill response plans would help build trust with communities over transport of this necessary energy resource.

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DeFazio Blasts U.S. DOT for Failing to Address Rail Tank Car Safety

Press Release from Congressman Peter DeFazio

DeFazio Blasts U.S. DOT for Failing to Address Rail Tank Car Safety

Will request an Inspector General audit of PHMSA safety programs

From Press Release, 22 Jan 2015

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx, urging him to take immediate action to address rail tank car safety and other significant pipeline and hazardous materials safety hazards.

“Despite numerous incidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials by rail, subsequent NTSB safety recommendations, and an industry petition for new tank car design standards, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) failed to take action until a train transporting crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and completely destroyed the town center,” said DeFazio. “Here we are almost 15 months later, and we still do not have a final rule.”

DeFazio also takes issue with PHMSA’s failure to address longstanding, significant safety issues that extend to pipelines.

In multiple pipeline accident investigations over the last 15 years, the NTSB has identified the same persistent issues–most of which DOT has failed to address. Each time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action, most recently in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. Yet three years later, almost none of the important safety measures in the Act have been finalized, including requirements for pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff valves and to inspect pipelines beyond high-consequence areas.

“For these reasons, I will soon be sending a letter to the DOT Inspector General (IG), requesting a thorough audit of PHMSA’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety program, including an evaluation of the agency’s effectiveness in addressing significant safety issues, congressional mandates, and NTSB and IG recommendations in a timely manner; the process PHMSA utilizes for implementing such mandates and recommendations; the sufficiency of PHMSA’s efforts to coordinate with the modal administrations and address safety concerns raised by those administrations; and any impediments to agency action, such as resource constraints.”

DeFazio urges DOT to take immediate action to address these serious safety issues. He writes that the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Federal Government to protect their safety and health and our nation’s natural resources rightly deserve more than proposed rules that languish in the Federal bureaucracy.

The full letter to Secretary Foxx is below:

January 22, 2015

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary Foxx:

I write to express my serious concerns with the repeated failure of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to address longstanding and undisputed pipeline and hazardous materials safety issues.

The rule regarding Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains is a prime example. The DOT maintains finalizing this rule remains one of its highest priorities, yet the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) now reports that publication of a final rule is not anticipated until May 12, 2015. In fact, the DOT has not even transmitted a draft final rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has raised concerns about the “high incidence of failure” of DOT-111 tank cars since 1991. In fact, over the last 10 years, the NTSB has investigated or is currently investigating seven accidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials in DOT-111 tank cars, including an October 2006 train derailment in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, which caused the release of 485,278 gallons of ethanol that ignited and burned for almost 48 hours; an October 2007 ethanol train derailment in Painesville, Ohio; a June 2009 ethanol train derailment and fire in Cherry Valley, Illinois, which killed one person, injured nine others, and resulted in a mandatory evacuation of about 600 residences within a half-mile radius of the accident site; an October 2011 ethanol train derailment in Tiskilwa, Illinois; a July 2012 mixed freight train derailment in Columbus, Ohio, which released 53,000 gallons of ethanol; a December 2013 train derailment and fire in Casselton, North Dakota, which resulted in the release of 476,000 gallons of crude oil and the evacuation of 1,400 residents; and, an April 2014 train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil in and around the James River.

The NTSB has been made aware of (but is not investigating) five additional train accidents that occurred between August 2008 and February 2014 in the U.S., which involved the release of crude oil, causing significant environmental damage and fires.

In March 2011, the Association of American Railroads petitioned PHMSA to conduct a rulemaking on new tank car design standards, which seemingly languished in the bowels of the agency until 2013, when a train transporting crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and completely destroyed the town center. Coincidentally, two months later, PHMSA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on new tank car design standards.

Here we are almost 15 months later, and we still do not have a final rule. Frankly, I am concerned that opposition to the more contentious portions of the rule will only lead to further delays, possibly even litigation. That will end up postponing implementation of a final rule while the concerns of States and local communities are growing.

Moreover, these delays have significant implications for rail car manufacturers. It will take time for them to adjust to the standards proposed in the rule, which in turn will have a rippling effect on shippers who are putting off purchases of new tank cars until the new design standards are finalized. As I have said before, I believe that you should seriously consider severing this rule and propose one rule on stronger tank car design standards and another rule to address the operational changes proposed in the NPRM. That is sure to move this issue forward and address the more immediate dangers posed by the current DOT-111 tank cars.

Additionally, my concerns regarding PHMSA’s failure to address longstanding, significant safety issues extend to pipelines, as well. In multiple pipeline accident investigations over the last 15 years, the NTSB has identified the same persistent issues, most of which DOT has failed to address on its own accord. Each and every time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action, most recently in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-90). Yet, three years later, almost none of the important safety measures in the Act have been finalized, including requirements for pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff valves and to inspect pipelines beyond high-consequence areas.

For these reasons, I will soon be sending a letter to the DOT Inspector General (IG), requesting a thorough audit of PHMSA’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety program, including an evaluation of the agency’s effectiveness in addressing significant safety issues, congressional mandates, and NTSB and IG recommendations in a timely manner; the process PHMSA utilizes for implementing such mandates and recommendations; the sufficiency of PHMSA’s efforts to coordinate with the modal administrations and address safety concerns raised by those administrations; and any impediments to agency action, such as resource constraints.

In the interim, I urge you to take immediate action to address these serious safety issues. The tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Federal Government to protect their safety and health and our nation’s natural resources rightly deserve more than proposed rules that languish in the Federal bureaucracy. If you need additional information or have questions regarding this letter, please have your staff contact Jennifer Homendy of my staff at 202-225-3274.

Sincerely,

PETER DeFAZIO
Ranking Democratic Member

 

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Federal regulator for U.S. oil trains to step down

Repost from Reuters
[Editor: Watch industry lobbying efforts as the scramble for power ensues.  For instance … note the posturing in this article by  Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, who reportedly said “dealings with Quarterman have improved in recent months as oil train hysteria has subsided.”  Nice  to know that our concern for safety and clean air is so easily dismissed as hysteria.  – RS]

Quarterman, regulator for U.S. oil trains, to step down: sources

By Patrick Rucker, WASHINGTON, Sep 24, 2014
Top Oil Train Regulator Is Stepping Down
PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, left, during House testimony (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly)

(Reuters) – Cynthia Quarterman, the federal regulator who oversaw expansion of the U.S. oil train sector and the fallout from several fiery derailments, will step down, two sources familiar with her intentions said on Wednesday.

As administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) since November 2009, Quarterman has been a leading safety official as oil train deliveries from North Dakota neared 750,000 barrels a day and spectacular derailments in the United States and Canada raised concerns about such shipments.

PHMSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been under scrutiny for more than a year as officials have tried to respond to the hazards posed by oil train cargoes, which have grown in volume along with a rise in domestic crude production.

PHMSA did not confirm Quarterman’s departure, which reportedly will come next week.

Quarterman, previously an attorney whose practice focused on the transportation and energy industries, was often the face of federal policy, defending government actions to lawmakers, industry and safety advocates.

“If you have upset everyone a little, you’re probably doing a good job,” said Brigham McCown, a former PHMSA head.

“The prevailing view is she’s done a good job in challenging times,” McCown said.

Among other things PHMSA has been tasked with writing new safety standards for oil trains and other hazardous cargo. Tuesday marks a deadline for public comment on the proposed safety rules.

Quarterman and other regulators have often been caught between energy interests who argue oil-by-rail safety concerns are inflated and political leaders who represent communities along the tracks.

Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said dealings with Quarterman have improved in recent months as oil train hysteria has subsided.

“As we moved to more of a science-based approach, things smoothed out,” he said. “Our more recent work with Quarterman and (U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony) Foxx has been very, very positive.”

Another major incident on Quarterman’s watch was the pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas, in March 2013. About 5,000 barrels of crude oil spilled from a line that is part of Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline from Illinois to Texas.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota; Editing by Ros Krasny and Sandra Maler)
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