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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Rulemaking critics: USDOT needs to consider crude/ethanol differences, oil stabilization process


The U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) proposed rulemaking aimed at bolstering safety measures for flammable fuels moved by rail needs to better differentiate between ethanol and crude oil, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) officials said in a press release.

Although the association applauds the USDOT for adopting a comprehensive approach that would address increasing concerns about rising crude shipments on the nation’s railways, that approach appears to more closely address prevention, mitigation and responses related to crude train derailments than ethanol shipments, said RFA President and Chief Executive Director Bob Dinneen.

RFA officials are concerned that the proposed rule "paints with too broad a brush" and fails to distinguish between flammable products with an admirable safety record, such as ethanol, and those that raise legitimate and serious concerns, such as highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken, he said.

"Ethanol is a low volatility, consistent commercial product with a 99.997 percent rail safety record. Unlike oil from fracking, ethanol is not a highly volatile feedstock of unknown and differing quality and characteristics being shipped to a refinery for commercial use," said Dinneen. "Before this proposed rule is finalized, the RFA looks forward to engaging the USDOT in a constructive dialogue about these differences, and the need to have a practical and effective phase-in of these new standards."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) sent a letter on Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging the USDOT to further examine the practice of oil stabilization, a process that removes crude's most volatile elements to make it less combustible and safer to transport. A company in Texas already has begun stabilizing its crude at a reasonable cost, Kind wrote in the letter.

"Most of the crude oil moved through pipelines is required to be stabilized, but there is no requirement for crude oil that is shipped by rail," he said. "Bakken crude has been found to be much more volatile than most other types of heavier crude oil."

The USDOT is taking steps in the right direction by moving to phase out older tank cars and reduce train speeds, but further action needs to be taken immediately to address crude-by-rail safety, Kind believes.

"While the amount of crude oil being transported by rail is skyrocketing in Wisconsin and across the nation, train derailments and fuel spills are occurring with more frequency," he wrote.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/30/2014