WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cynthia Quarterman, the federal regulator who oversaw expansion of the U.S. oil train sector and the fallout from several fiery derailments, will step down, two sources familiar with her intentions said on Wednesday.
As administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) since November 2009, Quarterman has been a leading safety official as oil train deliveries from North Dakota neared 750,000 barrels a day and spectacular derailments in the United States and Canada raised concerns about such shipments.
PHMSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been under scrutiny for more than a year as officials have tried to respond to the hazards posed by oil train cargoes, which have grown in volume along with a rise in domestic crude production.
PHMSA did not confirm Quarterman’s departure, which reportedly will come next week.
Quarterman, previously an attorney whose practice focused on the transportation and energy industries, was often the face of federal policy, defending government actions to lawmakers, industry and safety advocates.
“If you have upset everyone a little, you’re probably doing a good job,” said Brigham McCown, a former PHMSA head.
“The prevailing view is she’s done a good job in challenging times,” McCown said.
Among other things PHMSA has been tasked with writing new safety standards for oil trains and other hazardous cargo. Tuesday marks a deadline for public comment on the proposed safety rules.
Quarterman and other regulators have often been caught between energy interests who argue oil-by-rail safety concerns are inflated and political leaders who represent communities along the tracks.
Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said dealings with Quarterman have improved in recent months as oil train hysteria has subsided.
“As we moved to more of a science-based approach, things smoothed out,” he said. “Our more recent work with Quarterman and (U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony) Foxx has been very, very positive.”
Another major incident on Quarterman’s watch was the pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas, in March 2013. About 5,000 barrels of crude oil spilled from a line that is part of Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline from Illinois to Texas.
Reporting by Patrick Rucker; additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota; Editing by Ros Krasny and Sandra Maler