03.04.15

SCHUMER: BAKKEN CRUDE OIL SHIPPED THROUGH UPSTATE NY IN HUNDREDS OF TANK CARS EACH DAY IS FAR MORE FLAMMABLE & DANGEROUS THAN OTHER TYPES – SENATOR DEMANDS FEDS REQUIRE OIL COMPANIES TO MAKE HIGHLY FLAMMABLE CRUDE OIL LESS VOLATILE BEFORE IT IS SHIPPED THROUGH NYS COMMUNITIES

Schumer Says Making Tank Cars Stronger Is Critical Component to Safety, But Making The Actual Crude Oil Contained In Oil Cars Less Volatile Is Another Important Step That Feds Must Undertake – With Hundreds of Train Cars Filled With Crude Traveling Through NYS Each Day & Feds Estimating 10 Oil Train Derailments Per Year, Feds Must Do Even More To Keep People Safe


Stabilizing Crude Would Make Deadly Explosions Less Likely Following A Derailment & Add Further Layer Of Protection For New Yorkers – N. Dakota Has Begun To Try To Address Volatility But Their Efforts Do Not Go Far Enough; Schumer Urges Feds To Develop A High Standard That Will Help Prevent Disasters Like Lac-Megantic & W. Virginia

 

Schumer: We Need an All-of-the-Above Approach to Crude-by-Rail Safety

Today, on a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on federal regulators to require oil companies shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil through New York communities in hundreds of tank cars each day to make it less volatile before it is shipped. According to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Bakken crude is more volatile and dangerous than other types of crude, making explosions more likely if a tank car derails and punctures. Schumer said that his ongoing push to strengthen tank car standards that will make punctures and breaches less likely is a critical step in making crude transport by rail safer, but an all-of-the-above approach is needed; making the actual Bakken crude oil loaded into the tank cars less volatile is something oil companies are capable of doing and another important step the federal government must undertake. Schumer said that North Dakota, where a big portion of the Bakken crude emanates from, has begun to address this issue on a State level, but their regulation does not go far enough. Schumer noted that the oil involved in the Lac-Mègantic disaster likely would have met the stabilization standard North Dakota has set. Schumer said that new regulations on crude oil stabilization are needed to add an additional layer of safety for New York communities where oil trains pass through each and every day.

“Bakken crude oil is much more volatile and prone to explosion than other types of crude, making it particularly hazardous when tank cars derail or puncture, no matter how strong the cars may be. We need an all-of-the-above to safety, so I am urging the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to develop a plan that would require oil companies to stabilize the crude oil to a certain standard before it is even loaded onto oil trains. It is something oil companies are fully capable of doing and it has been done in other oil fields around the country. We need to ensure these train cars are safer, but we also need to ensure that the highly volatile crude oil that is in them is safer too,” said Schumer. “The damage that volatile, highly dangerous Bakken crude can cause in New York communities is tremendous, and that is why I have been fighting for over a year and a half now to get the federal government to issue strong regulations that would make the tank cars that transport this oil safer. And while we are finally on the precipice of making rules a reality, we need to extend our efforts and require that the crude oil itself be made safer.”

Schumer said that, across New York State, the dangers posed by shipping volatile Bakken crude oil by rail have become increasingly clear. With hundreds of tank cars full of Bakken crude oil traveling through the state every day, Schumer has worked over the past year and a half to better ensure the safety of residents by pushing to strengthen tank car standards that would make explosions less likely in the instance of derailments and breaches. Schumer said his push today to make the Bakken crude less volatile before it is even shipped in the tank cars is the next critical step for safety. Schumer called this an all-of-the-above approach, which supplements his ongoing effort to protect Upstate communities that see these trains pass through daily. Schumer said making the actual Bakken crude oil loaded into the tank cars less volatile is something oil companies are capable of doing and another important step the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE) must undertake in the ongoing effort to protect residents and communities from derailments and potentially explosions.

According to a report published by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2014, the Bakken crude oil that is transported on New York State rail lines every day is more volatile than most other types of crude oil and other products shipped by rail, and its greater volatility is linked to increased ignitability and flammability. Schumer said this is particularly dangerous during derailments, punctures and breaches, which have proven to be deadly in cases like the Lac-Mègantic derailment, which left 47 people dead in the Canadian Province of Quebec in July 2013. According to the PHMSA, this Bakken crude oil is primarily light and sweet, compared to heavier crude oils produced from conventional domestic reservoirs and imports. As a result, this lighter, sweeter crude oil is a higher quality and easier to refine into commercial products. However, this kind of oil is also easier to ignite because the flash point—the lowest temperature at which ignition can occur—is lower for Bakken than for other crude oils. This volatility is a measure of the tendency for the oil to vaporize, or move from a liquid to a gaseous state. Because this Bakken oil is “lighter” and has a higher vapor pressure than most crude oils, it is particularly dangerous during rail transport, when derailments and breaches, and subsequent explosions, near communities are most likely to happen. Although this kind of oil has been produced for decades, the recent boom in crude oil extraction in North Dakota, where a big portion of the Bakken oil emanates from, and similar deposits elsewhere has led to this dangerous and unexpected development in the industry.

Schumer said new regulations on crude oil stabilization, before the oil is even loaded into these tank cars, are needed to add an additional layer of safety for New York communities where oil trains pass through each and every day. Schumer said that while he applauds the DOT for proposing and working to finalize a new comprehensive standard for tank cars, it is just one important part of the equation. Schumer has long pushed for other key safety components in order to protect communities, like operational changes that would reduce train speed limits and reporting requirements so that first responders can be prepared in the case of a derailment or disaster. In concert with these proposals, Schumer is making this additional push to have oil stabilized before it is loaded into these tank cars as a part of his comprehensive effort to make crude-by-rail transport safer. Schumer said that until the stability of the crude being loaded into the tank cars themselves is improved, disasters like those in Lac-Mègantic, Quebec; Aliceville, AL; Casselton, ND; Lynchburg, VA; and Charleston, WV, could continue to occur. That is why it is critical the DOT and DOE work together to develop a standard to address this issue as quickly as possible.

Specifically, Schumer is urging these two federal agencies to work together on a plan that would require oil companies to stabilize highly flammable and dangerous Bakken crude oil prior to transport. Stabilization technology is not a new concept, and has been used previously in oil fields in other regions of the country and the world. Schumer said that while North Dakota has attempted to address this issue on a state level, their regulations have not gone far enough. The North Dakota law requires that oil be stabilized to at least 13.7 pounds per square inch, a standard that the oil that caused a deadly explosion in the Lac-Mègantic disaster likely would have met. Schumer said that because the oil in this disaster would have met this new requirement, it would have done little to prevent the disaster. Instead, Schumer said, the DOT and DOE must go even further. Schumer is asking these two agencies to work together to develop a standard for stabilization that would greatly reduce the risk of Lac-Mègantic-type disasters and require oil companies to follow it. Schumer said requiring that Bakken crude be stabilized prior to transport could help greatly improve safety.

During the call, Schumer’s office shared a map of the Canadian Pacific and CSX freight rail lines that carry crude oil across New York and pass through nearly every major urban area. The CSX line carries crude from Buffalo through Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to the Albany area, where some of the oil is diverted to the Port of Albany and the remainder then heads south on rail lines along the Hudson River before skirting New York City on its way to New Jersey. The Canadian Pacific (CP) freight rail line brings crude down from Rouses Point through Plattsburgh, along Lake Champlain and Whitehall, Saratoga, Cohoes, and Watervliet to Albany. Some crude from the CP line merges with Pam Am Railroad at Mechanicville and heads east to Massachusetts. Most, however, continue to the Port of Albany where the crude oil is loaded onto barges or oil tankers to travel down the Hudson en route to refineries in Canada and the east coast.

Schumer has fought over the past year and a half to make crude-by-rail transport safer for the communities across New York State where these trains travel every day. Most recently, in February, Schumer called on the federal DOT and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to expedite the release of finalized rules and new comprehensive car standards for trains carrying oil in the wake of the West Virginia accident. That rule is now at OMB. Schumer’s call came on the heels of the news that the crude-oil rail cars that were part of the massive explosion in West Virginia this week would likely not meet the proposed rules and new car standards that the DOT is pursuing. Schumer said that the accident in West Virginia demonstrated that, yet again, weak, rupture-prone cars are endangering communities and first responders throughout New York and across the United States, and he urged the DOT and OMB to finally release their rule.

 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy appears below:

 

Dear Secretary Foxx and Secretary Moniz,

 

I write today to ask for your continued help in addressing the dangers posed by the shipment of unstable crude oil by rail in the United States. As you are aware this has been an ongoing issue for a number of years, but has recently become even more important as the shipment of oil by rail has hit all-time highs throughout the United States. In New York the dangers posed by shipping volatile crude by rail have become increasingly clear, with hundreds of tank cars full of crude traveling through the state every day.  I applaud the Department of Transportation for heeding my call and taking an important first step in issuing a proposed rule on new tank car standards. However, as has been demonstrated both in studies and in recent incidents, a new tank car standard alone, while an important piece to the puzzle, is not enough to protect communities from the dangers of crude by rail shipments. Therefore, I urge both the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to work together to develop new regulations that would require the stabilization of crude oil prior to shipment.

 

The inherent dangers in the shipment of unstable crude oil have become only too clear in recent years. The Lac-Mègantic derailment, which left 47 people dead in the Canadian Province of Quebec, as well as more recent derailments in Aliceville, AL; Casselton, ND; Lynchburg, VA; and Charleston, WV demonstrate clearly that transporting crude by rail carries large risks. It is critical that both of your agencies do everything they can to help mitigate those risks. Proposing and finalizing a new comprehensive standard for tank cars is an important part of the equation, and so I applaud DOT for taking this step. In addition, operational changes like speed limits, and reporting requirements so that first responders can be prepared for a disaster is another key component to protecting public safety. However, until the stability of the crude being loaded into the tank cars themselves is improved disasters like those listed above could continue to occur. That is why it is critical that your agencies work together to develop a standard to address this issue as quickly as possible.

 

The stability of crude oil, and in particular Bakken crude, is not a new issue. PHMSA released a report in 2014 that concluded that Bakken crude was “more volatile than most other types of crude – which correlates to increased ignitability and flammability.” The report went on to say that “given Bakken crude oil’s volatility, there is an increased risk of a significant incident involving this material.” This report made it clear that because of its higher gas content and vapor pressure, as well as its lower flash point and boiling point Bakken crude is less stable than other types of crude, making it more dangerous in the event of a derailment. That is why your agencies must work together on a plan to require the stabilization of this crude oil prior to transport.

 

Stabilization technology is not a new concept, and has previously been used in oil fields in other regions of the country and the world. While North Dakota has attempted to address this issue on a state level, it seems apparent that their regulation did not go far enough. They required that oil be stabilized to at least 13.7 psi, a standard that the oil involved in the Lac-Mègantic disaster would have met. I ask that your agencies work together to develop a standard for stabilization that would greatly reduce the risk of Lac-Mègantic type disasters.

 

When it comes to protecting communities from the dangers of crude by rail shipments we need an all-of-the-above approach. This approach must include both comprehensive tank car standards to prevent derailment and reduce the risks of breaches when those derailment do occur, available and accessible information and resources so that emergency response personnel can prepare for disasters, and finally a stabilization requirement that will reduce the volatility and subsequent risk posed by the crude itself.

 

I appreciate your consideration of this request and your joint efforts to help address this problem.

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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