DOT issues new guidelines for shipping crude oil by rail

In response to recent crude oil tank car derailments in North America, the US Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued new actions this week.

The DOT issued an Emergency Order requiring new notifications for large amounts of crude oil shipped out of the Bakken by rail. The new order requires all railroad carriers transporting trains with 1,000,000 gallons or more of Bakken crude oil to submit specific information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) for each state the route intersects.

New Emergency Order requires railroad carriers to…

  • provide a reasonable estimate of the number of trains that are expected to travel, per week, through each county within the state
  • identify and describe the petroleum crude oil being transported
  • provide all applicable emergency response information
  • identify the route over which the material will be transported
  • identify at least one point of contact at the railroad (including name, title, phone number and address) responsible for serving as the point of contact for SERCs and local emergency responders related to the railroad’s transportation of Bakken crude oil

In addition to the Emergency Order, a new Safety Advisory released this week recommends railroad carriers use tank cars with the highest level of integrity in the fleet when transporting Bakken crude oil. Interestingly, the new safety advisory doesn’t prohibit the use of older, legacy tank cars to transport Bakken crude oil. The old, legacy cars have been linked to the recent derailments and do not have the structural requirements for safely transporting this type of material. Instead, the official DOT recommendation advises “carriers of Bakken crude oil to avoid the use of older, legacy DOT Specification 111 or CTC 111 tank cars for the shipment of such oil to the extent reasonably practicable.”

Supplemental information provided in the Safety Advisory states as follows:

in an effort to maintain the safety of the Nation’s rail system and the communities through which trains transporting Bakken crude oil travels, FRA and PHMSA recommend that offerors and carriers of Bakken crude oil by rail select and only use the tank car designs with the highest level of integrity reasonably available within their fleet. The features that offerors should consider in assessing tank car integrity include, without limitation, tank shell jacket systems, head shields, and top fittings protection. Further, FRA and PHMSA advise offerors and carriers of Bakken crude oil to avoid the use of older, legacy DOT Specification 111 or CTC 111 tank cars for the shipment of such oil to the extent reasonably practicable.

While the new Emergency Order and Safety Advisory raise awareness of the danger of transporting crude oil across the US by rail, much is left to be desired in the way of more stringent regulations on the use of old legacy tank cars hauling crude across the US. Canadian regulators have taken aggressive action to phase out the old tank cars. After years of work on the issue, members of US regulatory agencies and the rail industry agreed to a set of voluntary actions to mitigate the imminent threat of further disasters. This notice makes official the US regulatory agencies have decided not to prohibit the use of old tank cars but instead rely on railroad companies to take voluntary actions to transport Bakken crude oil by rail more safely. The Emergency Order adds, “to date, all Class I railroads have subscribed to the voluntary actions and several more have expressed their intent to sign.”

Other voluntary actions include the following:

  • speed restrictions
  • braking signal propagation systems
  • additional track and rail integrity inspections
  • more frequent mechanical inspections
  • funding for emergency responder training
  • communication with communities about the hazards of crude oil rail transport

Read the full Emergency Order

Read the full Safety Advisory

environmental dataCarissa Ries

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