PHMSA is extending the deadline for comments due today (March 21, 2017) on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued on January 18, 2017. The new deadline for comments is May 19, 2017. The ANPRM was issued in response to a petition for rulemaking filed by state of New York, enquiring about risks posed by transport of petroleum by means other than pipeline, specifically by rail, and whether to establish vapor pressure standards for the transportation of crude oil. The ANPRM requested comments on whether a national standard should be developed for vapor pressure of crude oil, including the potential safety benefits and costs of establishing a standard. The intent of the ANPRM is to evaluate measures to reduce risk of fire and explosion in non-pipeline transport of crude oil such as a national vapor pressure standard and, if so, adopt appropriate threshold recommendations for the standard.
Under pressure from Congress, NTSB, and the public to take regulatory action in light of recent accidents involving oil trains, PHMSA finalized its regulations applicable to “High-Hazard Flammable Trains” in a Final Rule (the Rule) issued a mere nine months after it was proposed in an August 1, 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The Rule amends PHMSA’s hazardous materials regulations at 49 C.F.R. Parts 171 – 180, incorporating numerous NTSB recommendations on rail safety as well as input from stakeholders. Among the main features of the Rule are enhanced standards for new tank cars and an aggressive retrofitting schedule for older tank cars transporting crude oil and ethanol. It creates operational protocols for trains transporting large amounts of flammable liquids, as well as new sampling and testing requirements intended to improve classification of unrefined petroleum products offered for transportation. The new standards were developed in coordination with Canadian transportation safety officials, in recognition of the fact that oil trains moving product across the international border “are part of a North American fleet and a shared safety challenge.”
In response to recent crude by rail incidents in the United States and Canada, Congress, PHMSA, NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and even some railroads have proposed improvements in safety standards for trains transporting crude oil. PHMSA originally planned to issue new tank car safety standards and regulations for the phase-out of older tank cars in March, but has since moved that date back to May. Due to that delay and the continued occurrence of rail incidents, Congress and the NTSB have called for PHMSA to establish improved safety standards, some of which exceed the standards in the Agency’s current proposal (discussed below). In response, DOT (through PHMSA and FRA, the agencies charged with regulating rail safety) announced three Safety Advisories and one Emergency Order on April 17, 2015, all intended to address specific issues identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipper by rail. The Safety Advisories are directed at both shippers and rail carriers, and cover topics such as emergency response information, accident investigations, and mechanical inspection and detection issues. The Emergency Order requires “affected trains,” defined to include those containing at least one DOT-111 tank car and transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquids in a continuous block, to adhere to a maximum operating speed limit of 40 miles per hour through highly populated areas.
In response to recent crude oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada, PHMSA has proposed two rulemakings intended to prevent and mitigate the consequences of crude by rail incidents. In consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration, on August 1, 2014, PHMSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that addresses three primary topics: (1) operational controls for certain “high hazard flammable trains,” (2) improved classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids, and (3) enhanced tank car standards. In conjunction with the rail safety proposed rule, PHMSA also issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking regarding oil spill response plans requirements for high hazard flammable trains.