After Pressure from Cantwell, Feds to Take Action to Address Volatility of Crude Oil before Shipped by Rail

Cantwell continues call for further action to strengthen rail safety, protect local communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After continuous pressure from U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will take the first steps toward addressing the volatility of crude oil transported by rail. Cantwell has long made the case that oil volatility must be reduced to protect communities along rail lines. In 2015, Cantwell successfully passed a proposal requiring DOT and the U.S. Department of Energy to study crude oil volatility – a critical component to DOT’s final rulemaking.

Through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the DOT will begin two formal actions. First, DOT will seek public comment on establishing a uniform way to measure the volatility of crude oil as well as whether or not to establish a national standard. Second, DOT will seek public comment on establishing best practices for determining volatility. Both actions are a critical part of properly regulating dangerous crude oil based on sound science.

"I am glad to see PHMSA take steps to make sure this highly volatile fuel is regulated. While this proposed rulemaking is a step in the right direction, more must be done to make our communities safe from volatile crude oil transported by rail. Regulating volatility and preventing catastrophic oil train spills and crashes must be a priority," said Senator Cantwell.       

As part of her efforts to protect communities along rail tracks, Cantwell introduced the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015, which would set strong new safety standards for trains hauling volatile crude oil.

Specifically, Cantwell’s legislation would:

  • Require PHMSA standards for volatility of gases in crude oil hauled by rail.
  • Immediately ban the use of tank cars shown to be unsafe for shipping crude oil. Those models include DOT-111s and unjacketed CPC-1232s.
  • Require new tank car design standards that include 9/16th inch shells, thermal protection, pressure relief valves and electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.
  • Increase fines on railroads that violate hazardous materials laws and establish new fines for railroads and energy companies that don’t comply with safety laws.
  • Authorize funding for first responder training, equipment and emergency preparedness. Also would authorize funding for increased rail inspections and energy product testing.
  • Require comprehensive oil spill response plans for trains carrying oil, petroleum and other hazardous products.
  • Mandate railroads establish a confidential “close-call” reporting system for employees to anonymously report problems.
  • Require railroads to disclose crude-by-rail movements to State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees along hazmat rail routes.

Cantwell has been a constant voice in increasing tanker car safety and reducing volatility of crude oil that passes through communities across Washington state. Following the oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon, Cantwell led a group of ten senators calling on DOT and PHMSA to set an emergency interim rule for volatility of crude oil transported by rail.

See Cantwell’s work on crude by rail safety:

June 15, 2016 -- Cantwell, Colleagues Call on DOT, PHMSA to Take Action to Protect Communities from Dangers of Volatile Crude Oil

June 8, 2016 -- Cantwell Presses Secretary Foxx on Oil Train Safety, Crude Oil Volatility, Demands More Progress

June 3, 2016 -- Cantwell Statement on Oil Train Derailment along Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

July 30, 2015 -- Cantwell Freight Provisions Pass U.S. Senate in Sorely-Needed Surface Transportation Legislation

May 6, 2015 -- Senators Urge USDOT to Immediately Strengthen Oil Train Disclosure Rule

May 1, 2015 -- Cantwell Statement on DOT Crude-by-Rail Safety Rules

April 28, 2015 -- Cantwell Secures DOE Commitment to Study Oil Volatility

April 7, 2015 -- Cantwell Joins Fire Chiefs, King County Leaders to Address Oil Train Risks

April 3, 2015 -- Cantwell Joins Tri-Cities Leaders, Fire Chiefs to Address Oil Train Risks

March 31, 2015 -- Spokane City Leaders, Fire Chiefs Show Support for Cantwell Oil Train Legislation

March 25, 2015 -- Cantwell, Murray, Baldwin, and Feinstein Introduce Oil Train Safety Legislation

March 23, 2015 -- Cantwell, Heitkamp Lead 20 Other Senators in Call for Crude-by-Rail Safety Investments

March 19, 2015 -- Cantwell Presses Energy Executives on Oil Train Safety

March 5, 2015 -- NTSB to Cantwell: Oil Train Crashes Raise Concerns Over Newer Tank Cars

March 3, 2015 -- Cantwell Announces Plan to Introduce Bill on Safety Standards for Crude-by-Rail

January 28, 2015 -- Cantwell Urges USDOT to Move ‘Faster’ on Oil Train Safety Rules

September 10, 2014 -- Cantwell Presses Railroad Industry to Reduce Freight Delays that Cost WA Jobs

May 7, 2014 -- Cantwell Pushes USDOT Secretary for Mandatory Rules on Crude-by-Rail Safety

April 4, 2014 -- Cantwell, 15 Other Senators Call For New Investments in Crude-by-Rail Safety

March 3, 2014 -- Cantwell Calls for Stronger Safety Measures for Oil Trains Carrying Flammable Bakken Crude