Strict New Rules Issued For Transporting Oil By Train Follows Crashes

Following a number of recent environmental issues stemming from train accidents, federal transportation officials have issued new emergency orders to make the transport of crude oil by train safer.  

On February 25, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced an emergency order (PDF) that will require shippers to ensure that crude oil is properly classified and tested. The order also prohibits the shipment of crude oil in tanks designated for low-risk substances.

The emergency order comes about a month after a North Dakota train crash involving 18 tanker cars of crude oil, which occurred when a BNSF Railway Company train transporting grain derailed and crashed into another BNSF train carrying crude oil in 18 DOT-111 model tanker cars.

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About 2,400 people had to be evacuated from the town of Casselton as a result of the crash, which generated clouds of toxic smoke. It was at least the fourth derailment in about a year involving crude oil transport.

In November 2013, a train carrying crude oil to the Gulf Coast from North Dakota derailed causing extreme fires. Just a month prior residents of Alberta were evacuated after 13 railcars carrying oil derailed and ignited a blaze. In July 2013, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec when a runaway train transporting crude oil derailed and exploded.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide,” DOT Secretary Anthony Fox said in the press release. “If you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately. And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups.”

The rules are specifically focused on crude oil from the Bakken shale formations of Montana and North Dakota, following an investigation into the recent accidents known as Operation Classification. It is also referred to as the Bakken Blitz, according to DOT.

The Emergency Order requires that class III crude oil shipments are designated as Packing Group I or II. This means that they must be shipped in stronger tank cars than substances shipped in Packing Group III. It also requires stricter standards of classification of hazardous materials and that emergency responders are given accurate information about the risk of what is being shipped.

DOT also announced it is currently working on new rules that would make the DOT III tank cars stronger.

Hess Corporation, Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation, and Marathon Oil Company have been fined $93,000 as a result of Operation Classification for improper characterization and classification of crude oil and other substances.

Photo Courtesy of–mike–/ CC BY 2.0


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