Martinez News-Gazette - Congressmen call for tighter crude by rail regulation

Jul 6, 2014
News Articles
By Rick Jones

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and three of his House colleagues from Northern California asked the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Tuesday to tighten regulations on crude oil transportation by rail. The four urged the DOT to make crude shipments safer before those shipments dramatically expand in the state, as predicted.

In a letter to DOT Secret­ary Anthony Foxx, Miller and Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Hel­ena, John Garamendi, D-Fairfield and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, asked the department to go beyond its previous emergency orders, issued after a series of accidents involving crude oil trains in the past year.

“We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting lighter, more flammable crude in densely populated areas,” they wrote. “Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous, costing lives, damaging property, and harming the environment.”

They acknowledged the DOT for the actions already taken. “We believe that your agency is making steady progress,” they wrote.

But the four urged, “We must still emphasize the utmost importance of demonstrated compliance with federal regulations by the railroad and petroleum industries. We believe there must be accountability and comprehensive oversight, as well as adherence to the most stringent of standards.”

The lawmakers requested that Foxx monitor rail industry compliance with the DOT emergency order requiring that state and local emergency officials be notified of large crude oil shipments.

“It is imperative that local emergency managers and first responders are given up-to-date information on what materials are being transported through their regions, when these transports are occurring, and where this crude oil will be stored,” they wrote.

They asked DOT to require producers to strip out volatile elements, flammable natural gas liquids (NGL), that may be present in Bakken crude before it is loaded onto rail cars.

“We understand that regulators are already considering this course of action. In order for industry to comply, they would need to build small processing towers known as stabilizers that shave off NGLs from crude before it is ultimately loaded for transport,” the letter explained.

“Stabilizers are common in other parts of the country and we understand that this could also be feasible through equipment leasing.”

The lawmakers want a rapid phase-out of DOT-111 tank cars from crude oil service. Such cars have performed poorly in derailments involving hazardous material, including most recently ethanol and crude oil.

They also want DOT to require the installation of a system called Positive Train Control on all routes used to transport lighter crudes such as Bakken. Congress required the system on the entire rail network by the end of 2015.

PTC technology will help reduce collisions involving trains, enforce line speeds, govern temporary speed restrictions and improve rail worker wayside safety.

California is projected to receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by rail in a few years. The four urged DOT to act within its power to make the rail shipments as safe as possible.

“We cannot allow communities to be in danger when viable solutions are available,” they wrote.

“As members of the California Congressional Delegation, we are writing to voice our strong concerns over the increased shipment of crude oil by rail in our districts and the safety risks associated with this upsurge.

“Northern California is already seeing a significant increase in the movement of oil through our local communities, and the number of shipments is only expected to rise in the coming years,” Miller and his colleagues wrote.

“We believe that we must be vigilant and put in place strict safety regulations that can adapt and meet the rapidly changing transportation and energy needs of our country.”