North Country congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) has applauded a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) decision to order new safety precautions for rail transport of Bakken crude oil, some of which runs on track through northern New York communities.
But Owens warns that the order may still be inadequate protection for local communities.
Last month Owens sent a letter to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx calling for information about volatile rail cargo to be shared with first responders. The new order issued Thursday afternoon requires all railroads and shippers to immediately notify state emergency response commissions about trains carrying 1,000,000 gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through their states. A typical DOT-111 rail car has a capacity of around 30,000 gallons, putting this minimum threshold at approximately 30 rail cars filled with Bakken crude oil.
“Coordinating the safe transportation of crude oil requires open communication between rail companies, shippers, and all appropriate levels of government,” said Owens in a press release. “Every year more oil is transported by rail, including on rail lines that run through our communities in northern New York. I applaud the Department of Transportation for taking an important step forward in ensuring that state emergency officials are provided with the information they need to effectively prepare and respond to rail accidents involving volatile materials like shale crude oil.”
The DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have also issued a safety advisory urging shippers to transport Bakken crude oil using their safest tank cars, avoiding older designs including the DOT-111 model that remains in widespread use.
“These recommendations underscore the risks involved in transporting crude oil by rail car and the importance of partnering with industry leaders to find a solution,” Owens added. “It would be nearly impossible to immediately discontinue the use of DOT-111 rail cars for this purpose, but these recommendations are an important next step in the transition toward safer transportation of crude oil through our communities.”
According to the American Association of Railroads, there are 228,000 DOT-111 tank cars in the U.S. active fleet, about 92,000 being used to move flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol. Of those, an estimated 14,000 were built to meet the latest industry standards.