By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON Feb 26 U.S. lawmakers are expected
to question regulators and rail industry officials on Wednesday
about several recent fiery derailments, focusing on whether
crude oil shipments from energy-producing regions such as North
Dakota's Bakken area are being handled safely.
A subcommittee of the House of Representatives'
Transportation Committee will hear from the officials with the
rail and oil sectors as well as U.S. Department of
Transportation officials responsible for safe shipments. The
hearing is due to start at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT).
"We need to understand what government agencies and
transportation stakeholders are doing to ensure safety on the
system," said Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican who will
convene the panel.
One area of concern has been how fuel is handled as it moves
from fields to refiners and whether hazardous material rules
account for pressure that can build during such deliveries.
Existing hazardous material rules envision a test for the
initial boiling point of crude oil and the liquid's flash point,
or the temperature at which it will combust with a spark.
But the rules do not require a test for pressure and some
lawmakers and Congressional staff say that is a blind spot in
the regulations that should be addressed.
"The pressure and volatility of these shipments have not
been getting enough attention," said Rep. Rick Larsen, whose
district in Washington state is home to a Tesoro Corp
refinery that routinely receives shipments of oil from the
Bakken region on railcars.
In March, a Tesoro executive reported that its refinery in
Anacortes, Washington, was seeing pressures climb on its Bakken
rail shipments. (for full report see:)
Officials did not test vapor pressure on crude oil samples
that led to fines against Hess Corp, Marathon Oil Corp
and Whiting Petroleum Corp early this month.
The companies were later cited for wrongly classifying cargo
tanks hauling fuel from the field to a railhead in October, and
a DOT official said tank car pressure was now being scrutinized
"This market is evolving fast, and people are demanding that
we get clear answers on the dangers," said Larsen, who has heard
from communities along the oil-by-rail route in his district.
Officials have sampled Bakken crude oil 58 times in recent
months to help understand the hazards it poses, and found many
more examples of potential violations, said Cynthia Quarterman,
who heads the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
"Tank cars are only one part of the chain of delivery and we
must identify and evaluate all of the risks associated with the
bulk movements of highly hazardous materials," Quarterman said
in prepared remarks. PHMSA is principally responsible for the
safety of U.S. rail cargoes.
And while hazardous liquids do not require a test for
pressure, shippers must weigh all risks when they classify fuel
on the tracks, officials said.
"The regulations are clear," said Bill Schoonover, PHMSA's
Deputy Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety.
"A person must account for all hazards present if more than one
hazardous material is being transported in a container."
If flammable gas like propane moves in the same shipment as
flammable liquids like crude oil the cargo should typically be
treated as the more dangerous of the two substances, Schoonover
Propane is packaged in pressurized tank cars rather than
standard DOT-111 cars.
Among others due to speak on Wednesday are top oil industry
lobbyist Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum
Institute, and Edward Hamberger, president of the Association of