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New rules for oil trains proposed by Transportation Department

The Department of Transportation issued new proposed rules for transporting crude oil aboard trains. The rules would require rail carriers to report to state officials the routes of trains and how much oil they would carry.
The Department of Transportation issued new proposed rules for transporting crude oil aboard trains. The rules would require rail carriers to report to state officials the routes of trains and how much oil they would carry. Bellingham Herald

The Department of Transportation on Wednesday released proposed new spill-response rules for rail carriers carrying crude oil.

Under the proposed new rules, rail carriers transporting crude oil would be required to plan for the maximum amount of spillage in a derailment and would be required to provide monthly notification to state and tribal emergency responders of the number of rail cars loaded with crude oil expected to pass through an area on a weekly basis.

The information would include the routes the trains are expected to travel and a description of what hazardous materials they will be carrying.

When the new rules will go into effect is not certain. They must first be published in the Federal Register, the U.S. government’s official bulletin, and then will be open to public comment before they are finalized.

“Incidents involving crude oil can have devastating consequences to local communities and the environment, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We’ve taken more than 30 actions in the last two years to continue to address risk, and we continue to push the industry to do more to prevent derailments from happening.”

Washington state’s U.S. senators hailed the proposed rules and urged that they be finalized as quickly as possible. In a news release, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, cited a derailment last month near Mosier, Oregon, as evidence that more regulation of oil trains is needed.

“Throughout Washington state, rail lines are adjacent to some of our nation’s most prized natural resources that are economic drivers for local communities and have supported tribal nations since time immemorial. To protect these irreplaceable assets, we must have robust policies in place to respond when accidents do happen,” the senators said in a letter to the Department of Transportation after the Mosier incident.

Concern over the potential for disaster from oil train derailments has grown as the amount of oil shipped by rail has grown in response to increased production in North Dakota and elsewhere.

An analysis by Washington state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council last year said a proposal to build the largest oil train terminal in the Pacific Northwest could result in a derailment every two years and an oil spill from a derailment once every 12 years. It found that most fire departments along the oil trains’ route are not prepared for a spill or fire that could accompany a derailment.

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