Statement Of A.G. Schneiderman On Federal Government’S Action On His Petition To Close Dangerous Loophole That Allows Rail Shipment Of Highly Flammable Crude Oil

STATEMENT OF A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S ACTION ON HIS PETITION TO CLOSE DANGEROUS LOOPHOLE THAT ALLOWS RAIL SHIPMENT OF HIGHLY FLAMMABLE CRUDE OIL 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement on the announcement by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that it will act on his petition seeking to close a loophole that currently allows highly flammable crude oil to be routinely shipped by rail through communities in New York and across the country: 

“I applaud the federal government for recognizing the need to address the danger that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State. In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability – which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents.  The federal government’s commitment to initiate a rulemaking marks a long overdue first step towards reducing the danger to residents in harm’s way of oil trains in New York and across the country.”

Background

In December 2015, Attorney General Schneiderman filed a petition for rulemaking to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that would require all crude oil transported by rail in the U.S. to achieve a vapor pressure – a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability– of less than 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi).  Specifically citing the Attorney General’s petition, PHMSA announced that it will be seeking comment on vapor pressure thresholds, and will evaluate the potential safety benefits of utilizing a threshold in regulating the transport of crude oil and other dangerous materials.  The comment period will begin on December 30, 2016 and end February 28, 2017.  

Vapor pressure is a key contributor to crude oil’s explosiveness and flammability.  Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures – such as crude produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota – have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane, and other highly volatile gases.  While the vapor pressure of the crude involved in train accidents is frequently not disclosed, in the limited number of instances it is known – including the horrific Lac-Mégantic, Quebec accident where a derailed train burst into flames, destroyed the downtown area, and killed 47 people – vapor pressures have exceeded 9.0 psi.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s petition directly addressed the fact that – despite recent derailments of trains carrying crude that have resulted in extraordinary explosions and uncontrollable fires – there is no federal limit on the vapor pressure of crude oil transported by rail.  The Attorney General’s petition argues that reducing crude oil vapor pressures to levels below 9.0 psi is not only practical, but is necessary for minimizing the risks and severity of accidents involving railroad tank cars.

The rulemaking announcement can be found on page 95 at  https://www.transportation.gov/regulations/report-on-significant-rulemakings.