Obama Again Proposes Big SRF Cuts

April 2014, Vol. 69 No. 4

The PHMSA has been conducting an investigation of whether Bakken oil is being tested adequately and shipped in appropriate tank cars. That is known as Operation Classification. The first notices of probable violations based on that effort were issued in early February to Hess Corporation, Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation and Marathon Oil Company, with fines totaling $93,000. As a follow-up to those notices, on Feb. 26 the agency required all shippers to test product from the Bakken region to ensure the proper classification of crude oil before it is transported by rail, while also prohibiting the transportation of crude oil in the lowest-strength packing group.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, pressed Quarterman during the February hearings about her agency's progress revising standards for what are referred to as DOT Specification 111 tank cars. They are used to carry crude from Bakken and elsewhere. The railroad industry adopted voluntary rail car construction standards in October 2011 which upgrade the DOT 111 standards. But Robert L. Sumwalt, a member of the board of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the House subcommittee that the NTSB is not convinced that these modifications offer significant safety improvements.

"The NTSB continues to assert that DOT-111 tank cars, or tank cars of any successor specification, that transport hazardous materials should incorporate more effective puncture-resistant and thermal protection systems," he stated. "This can be accomplished through the incorporation of additional protective features such as full head shields, jackets, thermal insulation and thicker head and shell materials."

Last fall, PHMSA published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on a series of potential changes to rail car safety standards. Some of those changes would upgrade the DOT 111 rail car standard. Denham pressed Quarterman as to when the agency will finalize the rule. Quarterman replied that the agency had received over 100,000 comments, and that the next step was issuing a proposed rule. She said she hoped that would be published "as soon as possible this year."

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