BILLINGS, Mont. — The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.
Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment — not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.
Hart cited recent derailments in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Brunswick and Pennsylvania of oil shipments from Canada. He said those cases exemplify “the risks to communities and for the environment for accidents involving non-Bakken crude oil.”
Hart’s comments were contained in a letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained by The Associated Press. They add to growing pressure on federal regulators to improve oil train safety in the wake of repeated derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration last July.
Citing the highly volatile nature of Bakken oil, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month ordered railroads to notify states of shipments from the region so firefighters and first responders can better prepare for accidents.
But Wyden and Merkley told Foxx on Thursday that the order leaves emergency personnel in the dark on oil shipped from outside the Bakken region.
The Oregon Democrats urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. They also pressed for the 1 million-gallon minimum threshold in Foxx’s order to be lowered to include smaller shipments.
They said the derailments cited by the transportation safety board show that trains carrying non-Bakken crude or less than 1 million gallons pose the same “imminent hazard” that Foxx has asserted for Bakken oil.
Bakken oil on average travels more than 1,600 miles to reach its destination, transportation officials said. That’s much further than oil from some other parts of the country.
U.S. transportation officials said the lengthier journey increases the overall risk exposure for Bakken oil — and is one reason it’s being treated differently than other hazardous cargoes.