Safety Alerts, Recommendations In Wake of Crude Oil Rail AccidentsSource: BakerHostetler via Mondaq | 14 March 2014
Recent accidents involving rail cars transporting crude oil from the Bakken shale region have resulted in the heightened interest of rail industry regulators and other federal agencies, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In January 2014 alone, PHMSA issued a safety alert addressing the flammability characteristics of crude oil originating from the Bakken shale formations and the NTSB issued two letters containing safety recommendations to both FRA and PHMSA.
The PHMSA safety alert and NTSB’s safety recommendations arrived on the heels of (a) FRA’s 2 August 2013 Emergency Order 28, which addresses safety issues related to unattended rail cars carrying Bakken crude oil; (b) FRA and PHMSA’s 2 August 2013 joint safety advisory 2013-06, which contains additional recommendations for railroads and shippers to implement improved safety measures for the transport of Bakken crude oil; and (c) FRA and PHSMA’s second joint safety advisory, published on 20 November 2013, which discusses the importance of proper characterization, classification, and selection of a packing group for Class 3 materials and the corresponding requirements in the Federal hazardous materials regulations for safety and security planning.
The purpose of this article is thus threefold: first, to examine the impetus underlying industry regulator’s piqued interest in the transport of Bakken crude oil and describe the factual background surrounding recent rail incidents (for the purpose of placing NTSB, FRA, and PHMSA’s safety-related communications in context); second, to summarize the NTSB’s recent, though nonbinding, recommendations to FRA and PHMSA; and third, to summarize the recent safety alert issued by PHMSA in January 2014 as well as similar safety alerts that predate it.