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Blog: Proposed Rulemaking Promises Increased Rail Safety for Crude Oil, Other Flamable Materials


Location: Washington, DC

We are at the dawn of a promising time for energy production in this country. This is a positive development for our economy, and for energy independence.

But the responsibilities attached to this production are very serious. More crude oil is being shipped by rail than ever before, with much of it being transported out of North Dakota's Bakken Shale Formation. In 2008, producers shipped 9,500 rail-carloads of oil in the U.S.; by just last year, that number skyrocketed to 415,000 rail-carloads --a jump of more than 4,300 percent.

The risks of transporting that crude, unfortunately, were made clear to me during my first week as Secretary last July, when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Immediately, we began taking a series of steps to improve the safe transportation of crude oil that has grown to include:

Safety Advisories, including our latest that calls for companies to avoid the use of DOT 111 tank cars;

Emergency Orders, for example, requiring companies to notify State Emergency Response Commissions that they're transporting crude oil through their towns and communities; and

Agreements with the industry to undertake a number of voluntary measures that immediately improved safety.

And now, today, we're building on that progress by proposing a rulemaking to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail, particularly crude oil and ethanol. The new, comprehensive rulemaking will open for public comment once published in the Federal Register at, and I urge you to read it and provide your feedback.

First, our rulemaking proposes to enhance tank car standards.

Within two years, it phases out the use of older DOT 111 tank cars --unless they've been retrofitted for safety-- for shipments of Packing Group I flammable liquids, including most crude oil.

It also lays out three options for improving the design of tank cars built after October 1 of next year, the most comprehensive of which requires thicker, more puncture-resistant shells, enhanced braking, and rollover protection.

Additionally, we're proposing new operational requirements for what we're now defining as High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs). These include enhanced braking, speed restrictions, route risk assessments incorporating 27 different factors, and advanced notification of State Emergency Response Commissions.

And our new rulemaking requires a higher standard for classifying and testing mined gases and liquids.

Our proposal is supported by sound data and analysis. Because today, we're also releasing a report with testing results from our inspection program, Operation Classification. That effort is ongoing, but what we've confirmed so far is that, compared to other crude oils, Bakken crude is on the high end of volatility.

This rulemaking also benefits from the 152,000 commenters who responded to our Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last September.

The volume of crude oil being produced and shipped by rail in North America simply did not exist that long ago. As the facts have changed on the ground so rapidly in the past few years, we must also change how we move this energy.

That means acting aggressively --and responsibly-- to ensure that we transport these important, high-hazard flammables safely, which is exactly what we've done in the past year, exactly what we're doing today, and exactly what we'll continue to do.

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