In the wake of a series of explosive US train derailments containing crude oil (including two in the last two weeks), US Senators John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, have written a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging prompt and decisive action on crude oil transportation.
“The recent derailments and accidents involving crude oil are alarming and demand increased vigilance,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to work together to quickly resolve issues with the transportation of crude oil in order to protect our communities, and prevent any further disasters.”
In the letter, Rockefeller and Wyden request the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to begin an investigation in order to thoroughly understand the current and future volumes of crude oil that will be shipped on railroads; evaluate the crudes to understand whether they require special precautions and handling; evaluate and update safety requirements to ensure that they adequately address the risks of carrying crude oil; and finalize DOT’s rule implementing the rail risk-reduction program that was signed into law in 2008.
While the boom in domestic shale oil and gas production has dramatically increased the amount of crude oil being shipped on US railroads, the series of recent derailments and serious accidents involving crude oil demands closer scrutiny. Rockefeller asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July 2013 to look at energy transportation infrastructure issues, including safety. This request followed a Commerce Committee hearing on June 19, 2013, titled, “Staying on Track: Next Steps in Improving Passenger and Freight Rail Safety.”
In September 2013, Wyden toured North Dakota energy sites and met with community leaders about opportunities and challenges posed by the unconventional oil boom. Wyden was a co-requester of the July 2013 GAO report.