Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crude-by-Rail Safety Under Scrutiny

Major spills of North Dakota crude during the past year in Quebec, Canada and in Alabama have raised questions about the safety of railcars that transport flammable liquids. The amount of flammable materials being transported via railcars has skyrocketed over the last year driven largely by the escalating output from the Bakken shale play, and the accidents have prompted calls for increased safety measures to protect the cities, towns and countryside along the route to eastern refineries.

In early August, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration jointly issued Emergency Order 28, which prohibits railroads from leaving trains or vehicles transporting certain types or quantities of Class 3 materials unattended on a mainline track. 

In mid-November, The Association of American Railroads (AAR) urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to press for improved federal tank car regulations by requiring all  tank cars used to transport flammable liquids to be retrofitted or phased out, and new cars built to more stringent standards. AAR said in comments filed with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that the safety upgrades it is recommending will substantially decrease the likelihood of a release if a tank car is involved in an accident.

The AAR estimates that roughly 92,000 tank cars are currently moving flammable liquids, with approximately 78,000 of those requiring retrofit or phase out based on its proposal. Another 14,000 newer tank cars that today comply with the latest industry safety standards will also require certain retrofit modifications under AAR’s proposal. The tank cars affected by the AAR’s recommended safety enhancements include those used to transport crude oil and ethanol.

On November 20,  the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration issued a safety advisory reinforcing the importance of proper characterization, classification, and selection of a packing group for Class 3 materials, and the corresponding requirements in the Federal hazardous materials regulations for safety and security planning. In addition, the agencies stated that "we are reinforcing that we expect offerors by rail and rail carriers to revise their safety and security plans required by the Federal hazardous materials regulations, including the required risk assessments, to address the safety and security issues identified in FRA's Emergency Order No. 28 and the August 7, 2013, joint Safety Advisory."

This week, a request for proposals published by Transport Canada reportedly shows the department is planning to expand its risk analysis program for the movement of dangerous goods “to allow it to more effectively monitor and assess changes in risk due to changing trends in supply chain, volumes, routes, etc.” Previously, Transport Canada issued new regulations requiring shipping companies to test oil before it is moved by rail. In addition, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt issued a protective order requiring rail companies to notify municipalities when they transport dangerous goods through their communities.

No comments: