Wyden, Rockefeller request crude oil transportation examination

The chairman of two US Senate committees asked US Sec. of Energy Ernest G. Moniz and US Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx to fully examine crude oil transportation in the wake of several recent rail accidents.

“The recent derailments and accidents involving crude oil are alarming and demand increased vigilance,” said Ronald L. Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

“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,” they told Moniz and Foxx in a Jan. 9 letter.

The senators asked the secretaries to begin an investigation to thoroughly understand the current and future volumes of crude oil that will be shipped on railroads, and evaluate the crudes to understand whether they require special precautions and handling.

They said they also would like to see safety requirements evaluated and updated to ensure they adequately address the risks of carrying crude. The US Department of Transportation’s rule implementing a rail risk reduction program which was signed into law in 2008 also needs to be finalized, Wyden and Rockefeller said.

Rail’s role grows

Crude oil transportation concerns have grown as more of it is shipped by rail because pipeline options between the prolific Bakken shale in North Dakota and Montana and East Coast refineries configured to process the light sweet grade are almost nonexistent.

Derailments of trains carrying this crude have grown in the past year. An apparent failure to set the brake of one near Lac-Megantic near Quebec in Canada on July 6 resulted in explosions and fires which killed 47 people and caused extensive property damage (OGJ Online, July 8, 2013).

Another struck a derailed train carrying agricultural products near Casselton, ND, on Dec. 30, resulting in a fire and explosion which forced the evacuation of 1,500 people, but caused no injuries (OGJ Online, Jan. 2, 2014).

DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert Jan. 2 to shippers and carriers, emergency responders, and the general public that Bakken crude should be handled carefully because it may be more flammable than other grades (OGJ Online, Jan. 3, 2014).

“The North Dakota Pipeline Authority recently projected that railroad oil-shipping capacity from the state would exceed 2.5 million b/d by 2016, nearly double that of pipelines,” Wyden and Rockefeller said.

“As oil production in the Upper Midwest increases, proposed pipelines such as TransCanada’s Keystone XL and Enbridge’s Sandpiper would carry—or divert—a fraction of the crude being carried on railroads, even if those projects are built and operated at full capacity,” they wrote in their letter.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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