Senate Democrats offer bill to reduce crude volatility on rail cars

Four US Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would require reductions of volatility in crude oil shipped by rail. The bill, S. 859, also would halt the use of older-model tank cars that have been shown to be at higher risk for puncturing and catching fire during derailments, the measure’s sponsors said.

“Every new derailment increases the urgency with which we need to act,” said Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member and the bill’s main sponsor. “This legislation will help reduce the risk of explosion in accidents, take unsafe tank cars off the tracks, and ensure first responders have the equipment they need.”

Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Patty Murray (Wash.) cosponsored the legislation, which was introduced on Mar. 25.

Specifically, the bill would:

• Require the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to draft standards for volatility of gases in crude shipped by rail.

• Immediately ban the use of tank cars shown to be unsafe for shipping crude, including DOT-111s and unjacketed CPC-1232s.

• Require new tank car design standards that include 9/16-in. shells, thermal protection, pressure relief valves, and electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

• Increase fines on railroads that violate hazardous materials laws and establish new fines for railroads and energy companies that don’t comply with safety laws.

• Authorize funding for first-responder training, equipment, and emergency preparedness; and for increased rail inspections and energy product testing.

• Require comprehensive oil-spill response plans for trains carrying petroleum and other hazardous products.

• Mandate railroads establish a confidential “close-call” reporting system for employees to anonymously report problems.

• Require that railroads disclose crude-by-rail movements to State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees along hazardous materials rail routes.

S. 859 was referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. It was introduced the same day that the American Petroleum Institute and Association of American Railroads announced availability of a new safety course for first responders to crude-by-rail accidents (OGJ Online, Mar. 25, 2015).

On Mar. 24, a Sandia National Laboratories report for the US Department of Energy found gaps in important crude oil characterization data, uncertainty about how to best sample and analyze crude to ensure its properties are determined accurately, and deficiencies in understanding how a crude’s properties affect its potential to accidentally ignite, combust, and explode (OGJ Online, Mar. 25, 2015).

Contact Nick Snow at

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