In response to a string of recent accidents and subsequent investigations regarding the shipment of crude oil by rail, DOT issued an Emergency Order on February 25, 2014, requiring that crude shipped by rail be tested and properly classified prior to shipment.  The Order makes a finding that unsafe practices by rail shippers are causing an “imminent hazard” to public health and safety and the environment.  It applies to all persons who offer crude for transport by rail in commerce within the United States.

This action is the latest in a series of Emergency Orders, Safety Advisories and proposed rulemakings issued by DOT since August 2013 regarding safe transport of oil by rail.(See prior pipelinelaw alerts dated 8/2/13, 9/10/13, and 1/10/14).  This latest Order requires that crude be properly tested and classified in accordance with federal hazmat regulations at 49 C.F.R. Parts 172 and 173.  In addition, the Order no longer permits the use of the lower risk designation Packing Group III for crude shipments and requires that all shipments be designated as Packing Group I or II hazardous material (the most volatile), thereby requiring the use of a more robust tank car for such shipments.  In a press release announcing the Order, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that “if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately, and when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups.”