Senate Democrats Push White House on Oil Train Safety

By:  Reuters - Patrick Rucker
Source: Reuters

U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged the White House to implement national oil train safety standards and to do more to control the volatility of crude moving in those shipments.

The Obama administration is expected to demand that future oil train tankers are toughened with added steel and have advanced braking systems to prevent derailments from becoming a disaster like the 2013 Lac-Megantic tragedy, when a runaway oil train killed 47 people in the Canadian town.

But the proposal is expected to do nothing to control the dangers of that cargo even though federal officials have warned that crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken energy patch could be unduly volatile and explosion-prone.

Senator Maria Cantwell introduced legislation that would force regulators to control oil train volatility.

"This bill is showing our impatience with the fact that (the White House plan) doesn't include volatility and we think it should," the Washington state Democrat told reporters.

The legislation is cosponsored by fellow Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington state, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California.

The oil industry said on Wednesday that it would help train emergency crews on responding to future oil train mishaps and urged officials not to over-regulate a sector that already has a strong safety record.

"We have a safe system today and we are now pushing to have zero incidents," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. "We just can't arbitrarily come in and start reconfiguring the balance that we have already achieved."

Earlier this week, several other Democratic lawmakers urged the White House to see that older tank cars are mothballed quickly. A Canadian plan on oil train safety would leave older tankers in service for a decade.

"These tank cars pose a very immediate and undeniable risk to communities all across the United States," according to a letter obtained by Reuters that was signed by New York Senator Charles Schumer and six Democratic Senate colleagues.

The oil train plan being weighed by the White House would add an extra 1/8th inch of steel to most existing tanker shells, while new models would have the thicker hull installed on the factory floor.

"These outdated cars pose an alarming risk," the lawmakers wrote.