Category Archives: US Department of Transportation

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)

Fed GAO report critical of Department of Transportation, warns of more accidents

Repost from NBC News

More Fiery Oil Train, Pipeline Accidents Unless Government Acts: Report

September 22, 2014

If the U.S. doesn’t quickly address the safe transportation of oil and gas, Americans could pay the price with more fiery train and pipeline accidents, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

“Without timely action to address safety risks posed by increased transport of oil and gas by pipeline and rail, additional accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated may endanger the public and call into question the readiness of transportation networks in the new oil and gas environment,” found the report.

The GAO report focused on the safety of moving crude oil by train and the growing network of “gathering lines,” largely unregulated natural gas pipelines. Both have been subjects of recent investigations by NBC News. The GAO determined that the Department of Transportation had “not kept pace with the changing oil and gas transportation environment.”

Oil and gas production in the U.S. increased more than fivefold between 2007 and 2012, a boom brought on by technological advances in drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Vast volumes of oil and gas production soon outstripped the pipeline infrastructure in place to move them.

Crude producers began to load their oil on trains. More than 400,000 carloads of crude ran over North American rails in 2013, up from just 9,500 in 2008. But a series of explosive wrecks have raised concern about the safety of oil trains — the worst, a 2013 derailment outside a small Quebec town, killed nearly 50 people.

A 2013 NBC News investigation found regulators had long known that the tank cars used to ship oil were vulnerable to rupture in an accident.

The DOT has since issued proposed rules to improve the train cars that carry oil. In its report, the GAO applauded the move, but emphasized safety improvements must go beyond the cars, including testing the makeup of the oil, which the DOT has said is particularly flammable.

The GAO also warned better oversight was needed over the growing network of “gathering pipelines” that move natural gas from the well. In August, an investigation by NBC News found that 250,000 miles of these lines are in rural areas and subject to little or no federal or state safety oversight, despite sometimes running beside homes.