U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is taking its first major step toward requiring oil companies to stabilize their highly flammable crude oil before shipping it by rail. Schumer has long argued that current laws allow for dangerous crude oil to be shipped through the backyards of Upstate NY communities without being stabilized, making violent explosions far more likely. Schumer said the USDOT today issued a report on their rulemaking for the reminder of the year, and it includes the start of two proposals for which he has long advocated.
First, USDOT will begin a formal process to request comments and information from stakeholders on whether or not there should be a vapor pressure standard for the shipment of crude oil by rail. This process will not only go a long way to determining if there should be a standard, but also what that potential standard should be in order to better protect residents that have this oil rolling through their communities each day. Second, the USDOT will begin a process to establish federal "best practices" for how to test hazardous materials -- like crude by rail -- for things like vapor pressure. Ultimately, this is the first step in a regulatory process to establish scientifically supported federal standards regarding the safety of crude oil prior to shipment and will ultimately lead to greater overall safety as oil is shipped through NY.
"The damage that volatile, highly dangerous crude oil tankers can cause in New York communities is tremendous, so I am pleased the USDOT has finally heeded our call and taken its first significant steps toward lowering the risk of a damaging explosion by exploring standards that will make crude oil less volatile before it's transported through our neighborhoods," said Senator Schumer. "I have been fighting for years to get the federal government to issue strong regulations that would make the transport of oil safer, and today's news is a critical move aimed at better protecting our residents who see these trains roll through their backyards each day."
Schumer has long pushed to stabilize crude oil before it is shipped, particularly in the wake of significant crude oil train derailments in places like Oregon, which saw a 16-cars derailment just this past year. In this accident, four trains caught fire, area residents were evacuated and more than 40,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled. Schumer has been a long-time leader on the issue of oil-by-rail safety. In June of this year, Schumer called on the USDOT to issue an emergency order requiring oil companies to stabilize highly flammable crude oil before shipping it through New York. In addition, Schumer was one of the early proponents of requiring rail carriers and oil companies to phase out older, more dangerous rail cars to make crude-by-rail transport safer for the communities across New York State where these trains travel every day. More recently, Schumer introduced critical legislation that would expedite the elimination of the dangerous crude oil carrying DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars and impose operating restrictions and speed limits in residential areas. In addition, Schumer has pushed for more information sharing between rail companies and local first responders to improve the response in the event of an emergency or a spill.
According to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), crude oil is highly flammable and could explode if a tank car derails and punctures. Schumer said that his ongoing push to strengthen tank car standards that will make punctures and breaches less likely is a critical step in making crude transport by rail safer, but an all-of-the-above approach is needed; making the actual crude oil loaded into the tank cars less volatile is something oil companies are capable of doing and another important step the federal government must undertake. Schumer also highlighted that research has shown Bakken Shale Oil, which is currently shipped through New York, is significantly more volatile than other types of crude oil produced elsewhere in the world. In some cases the currently being shipped through New York is as much as 3 or 4 times more volatile than crude produced around the Gulf of Mexico, making the likelihood of a catastrophic accident far higher.
Schumer said that, across New York State, the dangers posed by shipping volatile crude oil by rail have become increasingly clear. With hundreds of tank cars full of crude oil traveling through the state every day, Schumer has worked over the past two years to better ensure the safety of residents by pushing to strengthen tank car standards that would make explosions less likely in the instance of derailments and breaches. Canadian Pacific and CSX freight rail lines carry crude oil across New York and pass through nearly every major urban area. CSX lines carry crude from Buffalo through Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to the Albany area, where some of the oil is diverted to the Port of Albany and the remainder then heads south on rail lines along the Hudson River before skirting New York City on its way to New Jersey. The Canadian Pacific (CP) freight rail line brings crude down from Rouses Point through Plattsburgh, along Lake Champlain and Whitehall, Saratoga, Cohoes, and Watervliet to Albany. Some crude from the CP line merges with Pam Am Railroad at Mechanicville and heads east to Massachusetts. Most, however, continue to the Port of Albany where the crude oil is loaded onto barges or oil tankers to travel down the Hudson en route to refineries in Canada and the east coast.