Cantwell Presses Energy Executives on Oil Train Safety

Senator calls on Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to impose rules on crude oil volatility


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pressed energy executives on the risk of gases inside trains hauling Bakken crude oil, and called for a “holistic” approach to improving the safe transport of crude oil.

In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Cantwell called for directing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to examine the volatility of gases in tank cars hauling Bakken crude, and how that contributes to the risk of explosions in derailments.

“Oil production has increased faster than the infrastructure needed to transport it in the safest ways,” said Cantwell, the committee’s ranking member.  “And I want to be clear about this. We currently do not have the regulations on the books to safely transport this product. I am going to be working for further measures to make sure that we do get those standards in place.”

Cantwell pressed Charles Drevna, President of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and Jeff Warmann, CEO of Monroe Energy LLC, on whether gases need to be stabilized before Bakken crude is transported by rail. Bakken crude oil is a light crude, with a high gas content. 

“If you want to transport this on oil trains, make sure it’s safe,” Cantwell said. “My obligation to the people in the state of Washington is to make sure they are safe and secure.”

Both said there needed to be a focus on preventing derailments with increased track inspections and maintenance. “The problem is that we’ve gotten so cavalier in this nation that it’s OK to have two to three derailments a day no matter what the commodity is,” Drevna said.

“Just to be clear, I’m not going to accept that and I’m calling for higher standards,” Cantwell said.  “But just to make a point, I believe in a holistic approach.”

Cantwell is pushing for measures that would improve all aspects of rail safety, including tank cars, training and maintenance, and volatility controls.

Cantwell’s remarks follow four derailments involving oil trains since February in North America.  Cantwell said she plans to introduce legislation that would establish stronger safety standards for oil trains, including new regulations for tanks cars. Washington state is the fifth-largest refining state in the U.S. and a destination for increasing quantities of crude-by-rail from North Dakota shale fields.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is set to finalize new standards in May for oil tank cars hauling flammable materials such as crude oil and ethanol in the wake of several fiery derailments involving oil tank cars – including one in Quebec that killed 47 people. Cantwell told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this month that she didn’t think the rule under consideration would be strong enough.