Perspectives: Compliance Advisor

DOT Eyes Safe Transport of Crude Oil

Proposed rule addresses recent catastrophic railcar derailments.

By Lynn Bergeson, regulatory editor

On August 1, 2014, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), published an important proposed rule intended to improve the safety of transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail — particularly crude oil and ethanol. The proposal responds to several catastrophic railcar derailments, all involving crude oil and resulting in fatalities. The DOT also issued on the same day a companion Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). This article highlights both initiatives.

Overview of Proposal and ANPR
PHMSA is proposing new operational requirements for certain trains transporting large volumes of Class 3 flammable liquids; enhancements in tank car standards; and revisions of the general requirements for offerors to ensure proper classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids, including crude oil. The proposal, if issued in final as written, would require the phase-out of older DOT-111 tank cars for shipping Packing Group I flammable liquids by October 1, 2017, including most Bakken crude oil, and by October 1, 2018, and October 1, 2020, for Packing Groups II and III, respectively. The proposal also seeks information on expanding comprehensive oil- spill-response planning requirements for flammable material shipments.

The proposal is based on information obtained under a 2013 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued by PHMSA, one of many initiatives in response to the rash of rail car incidents involving the transport of flammable liquids. The DOT proposes to define the term “high-hazard flammable train” (HHFT) as a train carrying 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol. The DOT proposes implementing a written sampling and testing program for all mined gases and liquids to address: the frequency of sampling and testing; sampling at various points along the supply chain; sampling methods that ensure a representative sample of the entire mixture; testing methods to enable better analysis, classification and characterization of material; statistical justification for sample frequencies; and duplicate samples for quality assurance.

The DOT also is proposing that offerors be required to certify that a compliant sampling and testing program is in place, document the testing and sampling program, and make program information available to DOT personnel upon request. Carriers would also be required to perform a routing analysis for HHFT that would consider 27 safety and security factors and select a route based on findings of the route analysis.

One of the most sweeping provisions in the proposal is the issuance of enhanced standards for both new and existing tank cars. The rule proposes new standards for tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, that are used to transport flammable liquids as part of an HHFT. The DOT is requesting comment on three options for enhanced tank car standard requirements: require tank cars to have 9/16-in. steel, be outfitted with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes, and be equipped with rollover protection; maintain the 9/16-in. steel requirement, but not require ECP brakes or rollover protection; and require 7/16-in. steel, but not require ECP brakes or rollover protection. The proposal also requires that existing tank cars used to transport flammable liquids as part of an HHFT be retrofitted to meet the selected option for performance requirements. The proposal would also require HHFTs carrying one-million gallons of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC) and appropriate other emergency responders about the transport of this material in their state. Comment also is requested on reduced operating speeds.

The ANPR seeks comment on oil spill response plans (OSRP) to HHFTs based on thresholds of crude oil. The ANPR asks specific questions, the responses to which will facilitate the development of a proposed rule that would adjust threshold quantities to trigger OSRP requirements.

Both initiatives are urgently needed to enhance the safe transport of large volumes of flammable liquids, especially crude oil. Informed comment is needed to ensure appropriate changes are made. Comments on both the NPRM and ANPR are due by September 30, 2014.


bergeson-color.jpgLYNN BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at lbergeson@putman.net

Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on conventional, biobased, and nanoscale chemical industry issues. She served as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2005-2006).

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