SCHUMER: NEW DATA SHOWS OIL-BY-RAIL ON THE RISE AGAIN, SAFETY STANDARDS TO SHIP HIGHLY-EXPLOSIVE BAKKEN-CRUDE OIL ARE STILL OFF TRACK; SENATOR WILL URGE FEDS TO REQUIRE COMPANIES TO MAKE CRUDE OIL LESS VOLATILE BEFORE IT IS SHIPPED THROUGH NYS COMMUNITIES
Stabilizing Crude Would Make Post–Derailment Deadly Explosions Less Likely & Add Essential Layer Of Protection For New Yorkers; Schumer Urges Feds To Develop A High National Standard To Help Prevent Disasters
Promised Study On Oil Volatility Is Chugging Along Slower Than An Uphill Train; Calls on Feds To Speed It Up So We Have The Data Needed to Make Safety Changes ASAP
Schumer To Feds: Publish Study and Create Stabilization Standards for Volatile Crude Oil Before It’s Shipped Through Backyards
On the heels of new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) finding that the amount of crude oil moving by rail to Northeast refineries is on the rise, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer demanded the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE) propose and quickly finalize volatility standards that will stabilize highly explosive crude oil before shipping it through New York. Schumer said current law allows dangerous crude oil to be shipped by rail without being stabilized, making violent explosions far more likely. In addition, Schumer explained that DOT and DOE should complete the ongoing formal process requesting comments from stakeholders and studying how crude oil properties affects its combustibility in rail accidents, which will inform this new rule.
“Every day across Upstate New York, oil railcars laden with Bakken crude pass through backyards and by schools and homes and near places of business putting communities in Upstate New York at risk if tank cars derail or puncture. It is clear to me that we need an all-of-the-above approach to safety, so I am urging the Federal Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to finally publish and finalize standards that will stabilize highly explosive crude oil before shipping it through Upstate New York,” Senator Schumer. “These new regulations are an additional layer of safety that New Yorkers deserve and will help keep communities safer. We have tank cars barreling through communities throughout the state on a daily basis, and we should leave no stone unturned to further protect residents.”
a new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the volume of oil shipped by rail is again on the rise. Refineries in the Northeast, used about 3.1 million barrels of oil in March, a level not seen since early 2017. Schumer said that this news in conjunction with the fact that next month is the 5th anniversary of the tragic explosion in Lac Megantic, which left 47 people dead in the Canadian Province of Quebec in July 2013, makes the issue of oil-by-rail safety urgent. Schumer said new crude oil volatility standards would make oil-by-rail safer. Schumer said existing efforts, including stakeholder comments collected by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) oil volatility study, should be quickly finished and used to create these new standards so shipment is safer. Schumer said is it vital the feds continue to address oil-by-rail safety concerns so that communities in Upstate New York and beyond are protected.
Schumer added, “The bottom line is – any time you are transporting volatile chemicals, there is a risk of explosion. Things like safer tank cars, better braking, and lower speed limits – they all help make the rails safer. But when it comes to crude, one of the most powerful things we could do would be to set a good standard for the stability of what’s actually inside the tank cars.”
Additionally, 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 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 and added that 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 than the heavier crude oil. 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.
Specifically, Schumer is calling on 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.
Schumer has long pushed for other key safety components in order to protect communities, including operational changes that enhance standards for new and existing tank cars, reduce train speed limits, and create reporting requirements so that first responder can be prepared in the case of a derailment or disaster. Furthermore, in 2016 Schumer announced that, following his push, the DOT and DOE began collecting stakeholder comments and studying crude oil volatility as the first major step toward requiring oil companies to stabilize their highly flammable crude oil before shipping it by rail. Schumer highlighted that while that first step is important, USDOT and USDOE should not take their feet off the gas and should continue to advance the stabilization rule all the way through the regulatory process.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy appears below:
Dear Secretary Perry, Administrator Batory, and Administrator Elliott,
I urge you to propose and quickly finalize a rule establishing federal volatility standards for the shipment of crude oil by rail in the United States. As you are aware this has been an ongoing issue for a number of years, and has become even more important as the volume of oil shipped by rail, after steadily declining last year, has recently increased throughout the northeastern 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. I further appreciate the response to my call as the Department of Transportation engaged in a formal request for comments from stakeholders and the Department of Energy initiated a study on crude oil volatility. 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 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 responder 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 in New York 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.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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