May 01, 2015

Manchin and Capito Urge Review of Oil Volatility Transportation by Rail

Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Energy requesting joint safety study to be completed as soon as possible

Washington, D.C. – As U.S. railroads have increased crude oil shipments by more than 3,300 percent in just the past few years, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) remain concerned that additional safety measures to transport volatile energy products must be implemented in a timely manner. Following today’s release of a new Department of Transportation rule on tank car standards, the Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz applauding the new regulations unveiled that enhance the safety of crude oil transported by rail, but also urged administration officials to expedite a comprehensive study on oil volatility by rail transportation.

“Domestic production of crude oil is projected to rise through at least 2020, and most of it will continue to move by rail. We have seen four major accidents already this year involving trains carrying crude oil - including the February train derailment and explosion in Fayette County. We must improve these safety conditions,” Senator Manchin said. “Although I am pleased that new tank car standards have been unveiled, we also need to improve our understanding of the chemicals and flammable materials being transported along our railways. As a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, I urge the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to work together to quickly complete a joint study on how we can make these volatile materials safer to transport.”

“This long-awaited rule will give the American public assurances about the increasing safety of rail cars and will give manufacturers certainty about next steps. With crude oil shipments by rail on the rise, safely transporting these resources must remain our top priority,” said Senator Capito, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Energy and Natural Resources Committees. “Now that the rule has been released, I urge Secretaries Foxx and Moniz to join forces and work quickly to enhance the safety of crude oil transported by rail.”

To review more information on the new Department of Transportation rule, please click here.

To read the PDF of the letter, please click here.

Please read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Secretary Foxx and Secretary Moniz:

            We recognize and appreciate the independent efforts of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to enhance the safety of crude oil transported by rail and further encourage you to increase collaboration and coordination between your two departments. The revised tank car and operating standards for trains carrying crude oil provide important details for car owners/operators, repair shops, and car manufacturers, but they only address part of the problem. In addition to making stronger and smarter tank cars, we must also improve our understanding of the unique chemical elements of crude oil and other flammable materials.

On April 1, 2015, the State of North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources began requiring operators to condition Bakken crude oil to a vapor pressure of no more than 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi). While we appreciate Secretary Moniz’s recent commitment to complete a two-year joint study with DOT on the unique properties of crude oil that contribute to its combustibility in rail accidents, we simply cannot afford to wait that period of time. We urge you to complete a comprehensive study on oil volatility as soon as possible and provide our offices with specific recommendations about how we can make this material safer to transport.

            Since 2009, U.S. railroads have increased crude oil shipments more than 3,300 percent, and most industry experts project domestic crude production to continue to increase through at least 2020. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) initiative known as “Operation Classification” has been collecting data and evaluating the specific characteristics of Bakken crude for well over a year now, but it has produced nothing to inform our debate in Congress about how to improve the safety of crude transported by rail. We appreciate your immediate attention to this matter and look forward to working together to find a solution.


Joe Manchin III
United States Senator

Shelley Moore Capito
United States Senator