New York, other state AGs seek lower crude-by-rail volatility limit

New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman (D) and five other states’ attorneys general asked the federal government to require crude oil being shipped by rail to have a less than 9 psi volatility limit.

New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman (D) and five other states’ attorneys general asked the federal government to require crude oil being shipped by rail to have a less than 9 psi volatility limit.

“Because of a regulatory loophole, these trains can carry crude oil through some of our most densely populated areas without any limit on explosiveness or flammability—creating ticking time bombs that jeopardize the safety of countless New Yorkers and Americans,” Schneiderman said.

Treating the crude before it is loaded so it has a lower rvp “would substantially mitigate the likelihood of uncontrolled fires and violent explosions seen in train derailments to date,” the states’ AGs said in comments they filed May 18 on a proposed US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rulemaking. AGs from California, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Washington joined in the filing.

Shipments of crude by rail grew as production of oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana increased more rapidly than pipelines could be constructed. Community safety became an issue after a parked train ran away and derailed in Lac Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013, spilling crude that ignited in fires and explosions that killed or injured dozens of people and destroyed much of the town (OGJ Online, July 8, 2013).

Schneiderman said the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requires PHMSA and the US Department of Energy to report the results of a multiyear study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories to assess the volatility of crude oil and make recommendations on improving the safety of its transport. He noted that completion of this study and the development of accompanying recommendations could take years.

Schneiderman noted that while PHMSA adopted a new rule in July 2015 that sought to enhance the structural integrity of train cars that ship crude oil and lessen the chances of train derailments, it did nothing to increase the safety of the highly combustible liquids carried by these cars.

Schneiderman petitioned PHMSA for a rulemaking in December 2015 to set a national pressure limit for crude shipped by rail at less than 9 psi. PHMSA announced in December 2016 that it would issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to gather public comments on vapor pressure limits and the safety benefits of imposing such a limit, he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in Pipelines & Transportation