U.S., Canada Lobby For Safer Oil Shipping

June 2014, Vol. 69, No. 6

As reported in the New York Times, spurred by a series of train crashes, the United States said on April 24 that they would push forward their tank standards for transportation of oil by rail, potentially resolving a critical safety issue that has been bogged down in the regulatory process for years.

The decision came a day after Canada issued their new rules for shipping crude oil and ethanol.

Analysts said the agency could release its rules by the summer after review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Since a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Canada last July, devastating a small town about 10 miles from the United States border, authorities in both countries have come under strong pressure to toughen regulations and improve the oversight of these hazardous shipments.

But while Canada has moved quickly after the accident, which killed 47 people in Lac M├ęgantic, Quebec, regulators in the United States have been much slower to act. The lag has angered members of Congress, as well as local and state officials, who have called for stronger action to enhance rail safety, including bolstering the tank cars used to transport crude oil.

The Transportation Department said in February that the railroads had agreed to a series of measures to increase rail safety. This voluntary agreement includes commitments to reducing the speed of oil trains in urban areas by 10 miles an hour, to 40 miles an hour, and looking for the safest routes for crude-oil trains of more than 20 tank cars.

Canadian regulators said they would require emergency plans from the railroads on responding to catastrophic explosions, and would quickly retire older models of tank cars commonly used to carry crude oil and ethanol. Canada also took a decisive step to force shippers to use a stronger model of tank car within the next three years. The new model is based on a standard developed by the railroad industry in 2011. It effectively sets a new benchmark in the United States as well given how much traffic crosses through both countries.