DOT proposes new rules for transporting crude oil by rail

A train with 20 or more tank cars carrying crude oil, ethanol, or other flammable liquids would be classified as a high-hazardous flammable train (HHFT), and would be subject to lower speed limits, routing risk assessments, and other new requirements under new US Department of Transportation regulatory proposals.

DOT also proposed phasing out older DOT-111 tank cars for moving Bakken crude and other flammable liquids unless the cars are retrofitted to comply with new design standards in a July 23 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR).

A companion Advanced Notice of Possible Rulemaking (ANOPR) outlined proposals to require trains containing 1 million gal of Bakken crude to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC) or other appropriate state-delegated entities about operation of these trains through their states.

DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration simultaneously released a report summarizing the analysis of data it collected with the Federal Railroad Administration of Bakken crude data the agencies gathered from August 2013 to May 2014. The data show Bakken crude tends to be more volatile and flammable than crude produced elsewhere, PHMSA said.

Comments on the NOPR and ANOPR will be accepted for 60 days, DOT said. “Given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals, PHMSA does not intend to extend the comment period,” it said.

API’s mixed reactions

The American Petroleum Institute said it was evaluating the NOPR and ANOPR, but it immediately questioned DOT’s findings concerning Bakken crude’s volatility and flammability.

“The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks,” API Pres. Jack N. Gerard said. “Multiple studies have shown that Bakken crude is similar to other crudes. DOT needs to get this right and make sure that its regulations are grounded in facts and sound science, not speculation.”

The Association of American Railroads’ initial response was warmer. “This long-anticipated rulemaking from DOT provides a much-needed pathway for enhancing the safe movement of flammable liquids in the US,” AAR Pres. Edward R. Hamberger said on July 23. “The fact that the proposed rule incorporates several of the voluntary operating practices we have already implemented demonstrates the railroad industry’s ongoing commitment to rail safety.”

Crude shipments by rail remain an important part of North Dakota’s oil transportation system, observed Lynn Helms, who directs the Oil and Gas Division within the state’s Department of Mineral Resources.

“It’s too early at this point to determine what impacts this could have on North Dakota oil production,” Helms said on July 23. “However, we will review the 200-page document and work with the North Dakota Pipeline Authority on how to best advise the Industrial Commission moving forward.”

Under the proposals, HHFTs with cars which do not meet the enhanced design standards would be limited to a 40 mph maximum speed in all areas, 10 mph less than the limit for tank cars that meet the new specifications. PHMSA also plans to evaluate a 30 mph speed limit for trains which do not comply with enhanced braking requirements.

Contact Nick Snow at

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