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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Department of Energy to examine crude oil volatility

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will pursue a two-year study of how crude oil properties affect its combustibility in rail accidents, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) announced this week.

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz informed Cantwell of the agency's plans during Tuesday's hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that focused on the Obama administration's Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a first-ever review of energy infrastructure that identifies threats, risks, and opportunities for U.S. energy and climate security, according to Cantwell's press release.

"A number of high-profile incidents have underscored major safety concerns," said Cantwell, the committee’s ranking member. As the QER notes, "these accidents have highlighted the need for additional monitoring, enforcement, and inspection, and new safety design requirements for tank cars."

The study will examine the implications for testing and understanding how crude oil properties affect things like combustibility in accidents. It will follow a Sandia National Laboratories report, which is the "most comprehensive literature survey in terms of properties of different oils" to date, and showed a need for further research, Moniz said in the press release.

Cantwell and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) recently introduced the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015. The legislation would require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to establish new regulations to mitigate the volatility of gases in crude oil shipped via tank car. It also would immediately halt the use of older-model tank cars that have been shown to be at high risk for puncturing and catching fire in derailments.

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More News from 4/30/2015