Repost from The Wall Street Journal
[Editor: Stakeholders, senators, and even the tank car builders say the feds haven’t gone far enough. Significant quotes: “‘Making it voluntary is not going far enough,’ Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) told Transportation Secretary” … “The trade association representing railcar builders and car-leasing companies said the advisory doesn’t go far enough toward new standards for tank-car construction and retrofitting the existing car fleet.” – RS]
U.S. Urges Companies to Use Sturdier Tank Cars For Oil-Trains
The Advisory Effectively Applies to About 66,500 Shipping ContainersBy Russell Gold | May 7, 2014
U.S. safety regulators urged companies shipping crude oil from North Dakota to stop using tank cars that have been implicated in fiery accidents.
The Transportation Department’s nonbinding safety advisory, which carries less weight than an emergency order, said shippers should use the sturdiest cars in their fleets to transport crude from the Bakken shale.
The advisory effectively applies to about 66,500 tank cars—68% of the total commonly used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. Shippers instead should use the roughly 31,000 cars that have been retrofitted to improve safety or were built to higher standards.
The call to get the older tanker cars off the rails drew immediate criticism as too weak.
“Making it voluntary is not going far enough,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Mr. Foxx assured her that the federal government was moving as quickly as possible to issue new rules.
The American Petroleum Institute said the industry had been working to upgrade tank cars for three years, and that during the next year “about 60% of railcars will be state-of-the- art, which is part of a long-term comprehensive effort to improve accident prevention, mitigation and emergency response.”
The trade association representing railcar builders and car-leasing companies said the advisory doesn’t go far enough toward new standards for tank-car construction and retrofitting the existing car fleet.
“With regulatory certainly, the car industry can get working” on retrofits right away, said Thomas Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute in Washington, D.C.
Calling Bakken crude shipments “an imminent hazard,” the agency also issued an emergency order Wednesday requiring railroads operating trains carrying more than one million gallons of Bakken crude the oil—about 35 carloads—to notify state officials about the movement of these trains. Trains transporting oil typically include at least 100 cars.
Railroads haven’t historically liked to disclose the routes or contents of their hazardous-material shipments even to the communities they travel through. But the Association of American Railroads, which represents the country’s big freight railroads, said its members will “do all they can to comply with the Transportation Department’s Emergency Order.”
State and local officials have complained that they haven’t been told about crude shipments, which have been rising rapidly. About 715,000 barrels of Bakken crude are being shipped by rail each day, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, or almost 10% of all the oil pumped in the U.S.
A spokesman for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. ‘s BNSF Railway said it routinely provides information to interested state agencies and emergency responders about the hazardous materials on its routes. He said BNSF also “believes that promulgation of a federal tank-car standard will provide much needed certainty for shippers and improved safety and response time for all first responders.”
The Canadian Transport Ministry last month gave railcar owners 30 days to stop using the roughly 5,000 least crash-resistant tank cars.
Regulators have been grappling with the rising amounts of crude oil being shipped across the country. A fiery derailment in Quebec last summer killed 47 people; more recently, crashes and derailments in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia have involved fire and explosions.
Federal investigators suspect that crude from the Bakken shale is more combustible than oil from other regions.
A Wall Street Journal analysis in February found that Bakken oil was very flammable and contained several times the level of combustible gases as oil from elsewhere.
The Bakken oil field has grown quickly, producing more than a million barrels a day and outpacing the capacity of pipelines. Companies have increasingly relied on railroads to transport the oil to refineries on the coasts.
In February, railroads said they would slow down oil trains to no more than 40 miles an hour in urban areas and try to route these trains around high-risk areas. But a crude train that derailed in Lynchburg, Va., last week was traveling at only 24 miles an hour. Its cargo didn’t explode, but leaking oil burned in the James River.—Betsy Morris and Bob Tita contributed to this article