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Help prevent oil train accidents

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Governor Tom Wolf has written to President Barack Obama to express concern and call for action to improve the safety of transportation of crude oil by rail in Pennsylvania. Each week, roughly 60 – 70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region travel through the Commonwealth destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery. Below are extracts from the letter.

Letter highlights

“The transport of some shale energy resources, and particularly Bakken crude oil, however, raises particularly significant safety concerns. Addressing those concerns is the subject of this letter.

“I am writing to express concern and respectfully ask for your help to improve the transportation of crude oil in Pennsylvania. Each week, roughly 60 – 70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region travel through the Commonwealth destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery. Pennsylvania sees some of the largest volume of Bakken crude oil transportation by rail in the US. Unfortunately, there already is a long history of incidents involving trains and tank cars carrying the especially volatile Bakken crude oil. Among the tragic accidents to date is the derailment that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying most of the time. There have also been train derailments and explosions in the US, including recent disasters in Virginia and West Virginia, where both fires were managed by allowing them to burn out over several days. In the case of Pennsylvania, there have been four train derailments since January 2014, including two within the city of Philadelphia.

“Furthermore, the US Department of Transportation just released an analysis regarding transportation of crude oil and ethanol across the nation. This analysis indicates that, under current conditions, over the next two decades these trains may detail some 10 times per year and potentially 15 times in 2015. It also indicates that an accident in a high population area could kill more than 200 people and cause some US$6 billion in damages.

“The potential for disaster is too great to ignore.”

“I am therefore respectfully asking for your assistance in this vital matter. Expedited federal regulatory action in several areas is essential in better ensuring safety.

“First, consistent national standards to reduce the volatility of crude oil prior to transportation are a must. North Dakota currently is taking steps in this regard. But we have to ensure all Bakken crude has been treated to remove dangerous volatile and is transported under the appropriate pressure and other relevant conditions. Second, current federal standards have reduced speeds to 50 mph in high density urban areas. It is instructive to note that recent derailments and explosions have occurred at speeds less than this limit. I therefore respectfully request further review of this matter and revisions to the speed limit as necessary to ensure against explosive derailments.

“Third, inspections by government inspectors of rail infrastructure must be enhanced. In Pennsylvania we have only six inspectors trained with the support of federal resources, even though we have some 5000 miles of track, among the highest in the nation. I request additional federal assistance to assist us in hiring training an adequate number of rail safety inspectors. Fourth, the current standards for tank cars and braking systems are not sufficient. Recent accidents in West Virginia and Ontario both led to large oil fires, even though the tank cars were of new and more stringent design. Braking systems and tank car standards must be enhanced to reduce risk. Finally, the pace of federal rulemaking on rail safety is too slow. We urge that new federal safety rules be developed and implemented with a sense of urgency appropriate to the risk presented.”

Edited from letter by Claira Lloyd

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