The safe transportation of hazardous materials in bulk by rail and cargo tank truck is a priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation. There are an estimated one million daily shipments of hazardous materials transported in the U.S. via rail, truck, air and waterways, and 99 percent arrive at their destination safely without incident.
The recent rapid increase in energy production in the United States has quadrupled the volume of crude oil and ethanol moving by rail and truck in less than a decade. While overall rail accidents have declined by 43 percent, and accidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials have been reduced by 16 percent, incidents that do occur can have significant and devastating consequences to the public, local communities and the environment.
Recent derailments in Canada, Alabama and North Dakota involving crude oil and ethanol shipments have underscored the need for a renewed focus on the safe transportation of bulk hazardous materials, specifically flammable liquids, by rail and truck. The U.S. DOT, through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), has been undertaking aggressive efforts on multiple fronts to ensure the safety of the American public and the environment.
As a part of these efforts, Secretary Foxx has issued a “Call to Action,” bringing together top executives of rail companies, associations, shippers and other stakeholders to discuss ways that rail accidents involving crude oil and other flammable liquids can be prevented and mitigated. A summary of the meeting and results of efforts by PHMSA and the FRA are included below.
The Department is taking a comprehensive, system-wide approach to prevent and mitigate rail accidents that involve flammable liquids. The approach focuses on improvements to rail operations, ensuring proper classification of hazardous materials and improving tank car survivability. Efforts include:
- Operation Classification —In August 2013, PHMSA and the FRA launched Operation Classification, also known as the Bakken Blitz. It has involved joint activities at all phases of transportation to investigate how shippers and carriers are classifying crude oil and what actions they are taking to understand the characteristics of the material.
- The operations have primarily targeted shipments from the Bakken and consisted of unannounced spot inspections, data collection and sampling as well as verifying compliance with federal safety regulations.
- The scope of Operation Classification was recently expanded to test for other factors that affect proper characterization and classification such as Reid Vapor Pressure, corrosivity, hydrogen sulfide content and composition/concentration of the entrained gases in the material. Inspections are ongoing.
- Regulatory Actions—PHMSA is updating rail safety regulations, including those that address the DOT 111 tank cars as well as operating practices that would enhance rail safety and clarify regulations. Recommendations include enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems for DOT Specification 111 tank cars, as well as top fittings protection that exceed current requirements.
- On September 6, 2013, PHMSA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing petitions and NTSB recommendations, seeking comments and recommendations needed to strengthen the safety requirements for DOT 111 rail tank cars and improve operational standards.
- Currently PHMSA is reviewing the 135 comments representing approximately 150,000 stakeholders.
- In accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act and in the spirit of President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, any regulatory action will allow for public engagement and comment.
- Safety Communications and Alerts—Concurrently with enforcement and rulemaking actions, PHMSA and the FRA will continue to address safety concerns by issuing emergency orders, safety advisories, safety alerts and other announcements.
- On August 7, 2013, PHMSA and the FRA issued a joint safety advisory identifying the U.S. DOT safety and security recommendations and announcing a Railroad Safety Advisory Committee meeting to address rail safety concerns.
- On August 7, 2013, in the wake of the July 6th derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, the FRA issued Emergency Order No. 28, requiring the railroads to properly secure rolling equipment.
- On August 27-28, 2013, PHMSA and the FRA held a joint public meeting to review the requirements in the hazardous materials regulations applicable to rail operations.
- On November 20, 2013, PHMSA and the FRA issued a safety advisory reinforcing the importance of proper characterization, classification, and selection of packaging for hazardous materials, and the corresponding requirements in the federal hazardous materials regulations for safety and security planning.
- On January 2, 2014, PHMSA issued a safety alert to notify the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.
- On February 25, 2014, the DOT issued an Emergency Order requiring offerors of crude oil for transportation by rail to ensure the product is properly tested and classified in accordance with federal safety regulations and for all Class III crude oil shipments to be designated only as Packing Group I or II.
- A Call to Action— On January 16, 2014, Secretary Foxx issued a Call to Action, meeting with rail company executives, petroleum producers and others, to identify specific actions they can take to immediately improve safety.
- Participating companies include the American Petroleum Institute, the Association of American Railroads and the Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
- At the meeting, Secretary Foxx asked for the identification of action items to reduce accidents and mitigate consequences of incidents to be delivered by February 16, 2014.
- Federal Agency Coordination—Secretary Foxx is leading the establishment of an inter-agency task force to address the safe transport of hazardous materials with the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior. All agencies agreed to share staff time and expertise as the U.S. DOT moves forward with the Call to Action.
- Safety Education and Awareness—Operation Safe Delivery will be executed in a transparent manner and will provide resources to educate industry and the public about how to safely transport hazardous materials. A dedicated website for this initiative has been created along with a regular reporting process to the public, the media, elected officials and public interest organizations. This site will be regularly updated to provide progress reports on industry commitments as part of the Call to Action and additional departmental activities related to the initiative.