Official: US rail sector mulls safety steps for crude transport
WASHINGTON -- Rail operators may route some fuel shipments around urban areas and slow down trains carrying some dangerous deliveries in the wake of a recent spate of fiery derailments, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation said on Thursday.
Secretary Anthony Foxx said that after several mishaps, the oil industry has committed to share what it knows about the dangers of crude produced in North Dakota's Bakken region.
"I was heartened to hear the industry say to us that they have a strong and vested interest in the safety of material being transported around the country," Foxx told reporters in a conference call after a two-hour meeting with leaders of the oil and rail industries.
A spate of explosive derailments, including one in Quebec last July which killed 47 people, has led to concerns over the safety of shipping crude oil by rail.
That shipment originated in Bakken, as did two others that derailed with uncommon force in recent months and have drawn regulator scrutiny.
"Everyone in the energy supply chain has a role to play in safety and there are many ideas on the table," said Holly Arthur, spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads which represents track owners.
AAR has urged regulators to set tougher tank car safety rules while the petroleum industry has faulted the railroads for not doing more to keep trains on the tracks.
The process for writing new rules could go on for months as regulators digest the views of stakeholders and clear bureaucratic hurdles, officials have said.
For many producers, moving crude oil on railcars has been the preferred means of bringing the product to refineries.
Some 71 percent of all oil produced in North Dakota was transported by rail in November, or around 800,000 barrels per day, according to the state's Pipeline Authority.
That compares with 500,000 bpd transported in November 2012, when 58 percent of the oil had been transported by rail.
In recent weeks, regulators have sampled crude oil at wellheads and train loading stations in North Dakota to try and understand why that fuel seems more prone to explode than other types of crude.
Cynthia Quarterman, who oversees dangerous train shipments as administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), said on Thursday that officials should know more within days about the makeup of that fuel.