DOT emergency order covers Bakken crude transportation by rail

The US Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring shippers to test Bakken crude oil to ensure it is properly classified before being transported by rail. The Feb. 25 order also prohibits transportation of crude in the lowest-strength packing group.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide—if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

“And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups,” he added. “From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

Effective immediately, those who offer crude oil for transportation by rail must ensure that the product is properly tested and classified in accordance with federal safety regulations, according to DOT.

The emergency order also requires that all Class III crude oil shipments be designated as Packing Group I or II, which requires a more robust tank car. The lower risk Packing Group III designation will not be accepted until further notice.

Rely on quality data

Responding to the announcement, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna said the emergency order leaves several questions unanswered, including what constitutes the appropriate frequency of testing for classification of petroleum products, and how crude oil transportation capacity could be affected.

“AFPM hopes that as DOT implements the emergency order, it will work collaboratively to answer these and other unanswered questions, which should be based on quality data provided by stakeholders that are legally accountable for transporting crude oil,” Drevna said on Feb. 25.

“We are also concerned of the immediate impact this emergency order will have on crude oil deliveries to refineries that make the transportation fuels our nation depends upon,” he said, adding, “Finally, we believe that DOT should make data from Operation Classification, also called the ‘Bakken Blitz,’ publicly available for all stakeholders to review.”

Drevna said AFPM understands DOT’s concern and shares its goal of advancing safe and efficient transportation of crude by rail. “We believe that all actions to advance rail safety should be data driven due to the complexities of the issue,” he said.

Over the last month, AFPM has been working on a request from the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to collect quality data on vapor pressure, flammable gas content, corrosiveness, and flashpoint and boiling point among other crude oil characteristics, AFPM’s president indicated.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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