March 25, 2015

Manchin among senators urging tighter safety rules for rail tankers | Register Herald

Following a number of train derailments hauling crude oil, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.,  was among 21 senators who sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday supporting funding for a program aimed at improving coordination between various agencies with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The proposed program would consolidate the regulatory units within each agency to allow the Secretary of Transportation to develop uniform safety standards for the transportation of crude and other energy products, said a spokesperson for the senator.

The agencies affected would including the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Substances Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"As you know, five years ago, our nation's railroads hauled very little crude oil by rail. Now, railroads transport approximately one-tenth of U.S. crude oil output — approximately 1.1 million barrels per day," the letter reads.

It continues that since 2007 crude-by-rail is driven largely by the vast natural gas and oil developments in the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota and Montana.

"In light of several tragic accidents involving crude-by-rail trains — including the most recent derailments and explosions of tanker cars carrying crude oil in West Virginia and Illinois — communities stretching across our country from the Midwest to coastal ports and refineries are rightly concerned about the safe movement of these combustible products," the letter to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.

The letter calls for "robust funding" for the program. However, neither the letter nor the press release addressed cost or where offsets would come from if enacted.

The Safe Transportation of Energy Products Program is to help the federal Transportation Department with the necessary resources to address current and emerging safety issues related to transporting combustible energy products, such as Bakken crude.

Among other improvements, the funding would require additional crude oil route safety managers, inspectors and tank car specialists at the Federal Railroad Administration, and special agents at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to run extensive oversight of energy production transportation, additional safety equipment, training and outreach via the Pipeline and Hazardous Material and Substances Administration.

The letter states the program would provide the Transportation Department the resources needed to address "critical safety issues" involved in hauling Bakken crude and other energy products.

The letter is signed by Democratic senators. Attempts to contact Republican  Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's office seeking comment were unsuccessful on Tuesday.

The safety proposal is one way the federal government is considering how to address the issue of derailments. At first, federal transportation officials believed stronger, sturdier cars built to haul crude oil were the answer. However, the cars, known as CPC-1232s, have shown that they do not prevent spills.

The CPC-1232s were involved in the Feb. 16 derailment in Fayette County, which spilled more than 172,000 gallons of an oily crude oil mixture into the Kanawha River.

The federal DOT is considering new regulations for tank cars, and a draft was recently submitted to the White House. Neither the White House nor DOT is releasing details of the draft. However, possible requirements may include a steel shell, nine-sixteenths of an inch thick, an outer jacket and thermal layer to prevent overheating, extra protection for top and bottom outlets and electronically controlled brakes.