This week’s release of the government report titled Department of Transportation Is Taking Actions To Address Rail Safety, But Additional Actions Are Needed To Address Pipeline Safety — a year long review of the risks associated with the large increases in transporting domestically produced oil and gas in the United States — identifies several well known risks with moving oil by rail but concludes that the new proposed regulations address these issues.
As previously reported on DeSmogBlog, the new proposed rules actually do little to improve safety and also phase in any changes over many years meaning that the oil trains running right now are not meaningfully safer than the five that have crashed and exploded since July 2013. And won’t be for years to come.
The report has received a scathing review from ForestEthics Matt Krogh. ForestEthics has been one of the leading voices in the effort to get improved safety regulations for the oil trains and are the creators of the Oil Train Blast Zone website.
“The Department of Transportation hasn’t kept pace with the expansion of oil train traffic.” Krogh said, “The agency still hasn’t banned tanker cars that were declared unfit for service more than two decades ago. The new proposed rules do little to improve safety.”
Krogh is referring to the DOT-111 tank cars that are currently the focus of a legal petition filed by Earthjustice with the Department of Transportation demanding that these flawed tank cars be banned immediately.
The new proposed rules would allow the DOT-111’s to be used until October of 2017 for the most dangerous class of oil (Packing Group I), and until October 2018 for the less dangerous Packing Group II. The oil that exploded and burned in Lac-Megantic was Packing Group II.
While the GAO report ultimately makes no new recommendations, it does highlight some areas that it believes should be addressed. However, all of their recommendations have previously been made by the National Transportation Safety Board and have yet to result in any changes.
The report states that “stakeholders told us that rural areas may lack sufficient resources to respond to a major event, like an accident involving a crude oil unit train.”
This fact was highlighted at DeSmogBlog in April when Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated, “No community is prepared for a worst-case event.”
The report also reiterates another point that the NTSB made in January of this year regarding the lack of spill response planning for oil trains when they stated that “oil spill response planning requirements for rail transportation of oil/petroleum products are practically nonexistent compared with other modes of transportation.”
To address this concern the Department of Transportation has issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on Oil Spill Response Planning for High Hazard Flammable Trains, but in a best case scenario this would only result in new regulations in several years.
And while the new GAO report merely repeats some of the recommendations made in the past by the NTSB it does not address the current hot topic with the oil trains — oil stabilization.
If prior to shipping the oil the producers removed the natural gas liquids from the oil it would eliminate the risk of explosion that has earned these trains their “bomb train” moniker. Oil stabilization is a proven method of removing the natural gas liquids from raw crude oil to reduce the risk of explosion.
Today, there is a hearing of the North Dakota Industrial Commission to review the best way to address the explosive nature of Bakken crude oil.
Although regulators have not addressed the issue of stabilizing the oil prior to shipping it by rail, the issue has been raised by politicians like Wisconsin congressman Ron Kind and multiple mayors across the country who are faced with the oil trains rolling through their municipalities every day.
This GAO report does nothing more than echo warnings that the NTSB has been making and ultimately makes no new recommendations for improving oil-by-rail safety with their conclusion.
DOT’s recent proposed rulemakings to address concerns about transporting crude oil by rail signal the department’s commitment to addressing these important safety issues. Because of the ongoing rail safety rulemakings, we are not making recommendations related to rail at this time.
If you are in the business of moving oil by rail, that is exactly what you wanted to hear.
Image credit: GAO report.