WASHINGTON (AP) -
The Transportation Department issued an emergency order Wednesday requiring
that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the
movement of large shipments of crude oil through their states and urged
shippers not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in
accidents, even at slow speeds.
The emergency order
requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million
gallons of crude oil - the equivalent of about 35 tank cars - from the
booming Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada provide
information on the trains’ expected movement, including frequency and
county-by-county routes, to the states they traverse. The order also
requires that railroads disclose the volume of oil being transported and how
emergency responders can contact “at least one responsible party” at the
Much of the oil
from the region is being shipped across the U.S. and Canada in trains of 100
cars or more that accident investigators have described as “moving
pipelines.” The trains traverse small towns and big cities alike. Local and
state officials, fire chiefs and other emergency responders have complained
that they often have no information on the contents of the freight trains
moving through communities and their schedules. Nor are they able to force
railroads to provide that information, they say.
The department also
issued a safety advisory urging shippers to use the most protective type of
tank car in their fleets when shipping oil from the Bakken region. The order
recommended that to the extent possible shippers not use older model tank
cars known as DOT-111s. Accident investigators report the cars have ruptured
or punctured, spilling their contents, even in accidents that occurred at
speeds under 30 mph.
The tank cars are
generally owned by or leased to oil companies that ship the crude, not the
The emergency order
follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety
Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a “higher body
count” as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety
regulations to become final.
Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the moves at a Senate committee hearing
Wednesday, saying the department was moving as fast as possible on new
safety regulations for crude oil shipments. He said the department sent a
proposal last week to the White House that included new tank-car standards
and regulations on train speeds, and the safety classification of oil based
on its volatility. He said he anticipated final regulations before the end
of the year.
emergency order, the safety advisory on tank cars is voluntary, noted Sen.
Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Pointing out that oil trains move through “every
major city it in the Northwest ... hitting every urban center in our state,”
she pressed Foxx to move even faster on tougher tank-car standards that
would have the force of law.
Petroleum Institute said in a statement that oil companies hope within the
next year to increase to 60 percent the share of tank cars that meet a
stronger, voluntary standard.
agreed to by
shippers and railroads in 2011. The NTSB has said cars that meet the
voluntary standard still puncture and rupture in accidents, and freight
railroads have recommended further improvements.
will “do all they can to comply” with the emergency order on train routes
and schedules, the Association of American Railroads said in a statement.
There have been
nine oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since March of last year,
many of them resulting in intense fires and sometimes the evacuation of
nearby residents, according to the NTSB. The latest was last week, when a
CSX train carrying Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending
three tank cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke
into the air. No one was injured, but the wreck prompted an evacuation of
Concern about the
safe transport of crude oil was heightened after a runaway oil train
derailed and then exploded last July in the small town of Lac-Megantic in
Canada, just across the border from Maine. More than 60 tank cars spilled
more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30
buildings destroyed in resulting inferno.
U.S. crude oil
production is forecast to reach 8.5 million barrels a day by the end of this
year, up from 5 million barrels a day in 2008. The increase is
overwhelmingly due to the Bakken fracking boom. Fracking involves the
fracturing of rock with pressurized liquid to free oil and natural gas
unreachable through conventional drilling.
Railroad and oil
industry officials had no immediate comment on the government’s action.