Written by John Plestina
Roosevelt County’s Disaster and Emergency Services Director questioned whether proposed new federal safety regulations for trains carrying crude oil go far enough to protect Wolf Point and other communities that rail lines pass through.
Dan Sietsema said he didn’t think the U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed new safety rules for moving flammable liquids by rail, including crude oil and ethanol, would increase safety.
“Letting us know what came through last week [proposed rule changes] doesn’t do any good for us,” he said.
“If you had a large fire on the railroad track, half of Wolf Point would probably burn,” Sietsema said.
An issue he cited was that Wolf Point is divided by railroad tracks.
“One of Wolf Point’s problems is the proximity of the fire hall and the rail line. It’s only a block away,” Sietsema said.
Just over a year ago, 72 cars from a train carrying 1.9 million gallons of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in eastern Canada derailed and exploded, ravaging about a square mile a Canadian town of about 6,000 people. Forty-seven people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
There were also several fiery oil train crashes in the U.S. during the past year, in North Dakota and other states. Oil train accidents accounted for more than $10 million in damages during the first five months of 2014, nearly tripling the 2013 total.
Details of the proposal were made public last week when U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx laid out what he called the Obama administration’s “new world order.”
The proposed rule changes include mandating that railroads share information with state emergency managers, phasing out of older and less stable rail tank cars during the next two to five years, lowering speed limits for trains, improving brake systems and addressing concerns that Bakken crude oil is more volatile than oil from other regions. The proposed changes also include provisions affecting ethanol.
The U.S. DOT proposal does not include some steps safety advocates have called for, including requiring oil producers to extract the most explosive gases from crude prior to shipping.
Foxx said during the announcement that the DOT’s responsibility is to ensure safety. He did not say when the rule changes could go into effect.
Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Director of Public Affairs Matt Jones said the BNSF would not comment at the current time and has been referring inquiries about proposed federal rule changes to the Association of American Railroads.
Jones provided The Herald-News with the AAR written response to the proposed rule changes, dated Wednesday, July 23.
According to the prepared statement, the AAR is probing the details of the proposed federal rulemaking and will comment at a later date.
AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger made the following statement: “This long-anticipated rulemaking from DOT provides a much-needed pathway for enhancing the safe movement of flammable liquids in the U.S. Railroads are playing a critical role in our country’s progress toward energy independence, moving more energy products like crude oil and ethanol than ever before.
“The fact that the proposed rule incorporates several of the voluntary operating practices we have already implemented demonstrates the railroad industry’s ongoing commitment to rail safety. We look forward to providing data-driven analyses of the impacts various provisions of the proposal will have on both freight customers and passenger railroads that ship millions of tons of goods and serve millions of commuters and travelers across the nationwide rail network every day.”