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Restrictions, requirements for oil trains gather speed

USDOT issues emergency order after Kitzhaber complains of inaction


by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - An older-model DOT-111 tank car sits outside the rail depot in the northwest Portland neighborhood of Linnton. The U.S. Department of Transportation is now urging railroad companies to ensure these ubiquitous cars, which predate design standards adopted in 2011, are not used to transport volatile crude oil on their rail lines.The secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation said Wednesday, May 7, the department will require railroad companies to apprise states, including Oregon, on the movement of trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of crude oil.

Anthony Foxx said the emergency order pertains to trains freighting crude oil from the Bakken region, which has been the source point for oil that has spilled or ignited in a string of North American trainwrecks since last July. Federal regulators are investigating whether Bakken crude, which is extracted from a large shale formation primarily in North Dakota, is measurably more volatile than crude from other regions.

Bakken crude has been freighted by rail through Columbia County since late 2012. Unit trains of DOT-111 tank cars carry the commodity to the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at Port Westward, an industrial park north of Clatskanie, where it is transloaded onto oceangoing vessels.

The federal action Wednesday came one week after Global Partners LP, the Massachusetts-based energy company that operates the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery, announced it would begin requiring by June 1 that all trains delivering crude oil to its terminals in Oregon and New York be comprised of railcars that meet design standards adopted in late 2011.

“Global is committed to safety, and as part of that commitment we have made the proactive decision to begin only accepting crude oil unit trains consisting entirely of ... compliant cars,” said Eric Slifka, Global’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “This initiative pertains to all crude oil rail cars received at the terminal, regardless of whether they are operated by a third party or leased by Global.”

The “legacy” model of DOT-111, the most common class of car used to transport hazardous materials in the United States, has attracted attention and criticism since the fiery oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last July that left 47 dead, as well as other trainwrecks involving DOT-111s and Bakken crude in Alabama, North Dakota, New Brunswick and, most recently, Virginia.

An oil train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, a medium-sized city in central Virginia, on Wednesday, April 30, the same day as the Global announcement. No casualties were reported, but several buildings were evacuated.

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Oregon Gov. John KitzhaberTwo days later, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a letter to Foxx saying that while he was glad Oregon and Global reached an agreement on the oil trains going to Port Westward, he wanted stronger federal action.

“States should not have to negotiate one-off voluntary agreements with shippers and facility owners in order to achieve the highest level of safety possible on rail lines,” Kitzhaber wrote, adding that he feels “concern and frustration” over the amount of time it is taking the federal government to respond to safety concerns over tank car standards and Bakken crude.

The Department of Transportation also urged railroad companies Wednesday to require tank cars on their rail lines to be built to the most modern design standards.

Although the current standards were adopted in 2011, requiring certain upgrades to make tank cars sturdier and more resistant to punctures and spills, the older model continues to comprise a large majority of the DOT-111 fleet in North America, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Even still, the association is already pushing for another new set of design standards to be adopted. Federal officials have said they are considering the proposal.

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