Department of Transportation Singles Out Bakken Crude in 'Emergency Order'

The Department of Transportation issued an "emergency order" yesterday regulating oil shipments that come out of the giant Bakken formation that has been a gold mine for North Dakota's economy and a focal point of fracking opponents.

The order requires all railroads operating trains containing more than 1,000,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, or approximately 35 tank cars, to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) about the operation of these trains through their states.

The notification must include estimated volumes of Bakken crude oil being transported, frequencies of anticipated train traffic and the route through which Bakken crude oil will be transported.

“The safety of our nation’s railroad system, and the people who live along rail corridors is of paramount concern,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today’s actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars.”

In January, two Senate Democrats have demanded an investigation into the safety of oil transport in the United States after two derailments.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made the request to Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz after a July derailment in Quebec that killed 47, a November derailment of an oil shipment in Alabama that caused explosions, last week’s North Dakota derailment that required 1,500 people near the fire be evacuated, and another Canadian derailment and fire this week near the Maine border.

The rail accidents were poised to give ammunition to politicians wanting to decrease production of fossil fuels.

Given the growth of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, the senators wrote, “the federal government must have a thorough understanding of the risks to communities near active oil train routes, as well as the current and future volumes of oil being transported by rail.”

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also issued a safety advisory urging those shipping or offering Bakken crude oil to use tank car designs with the "highest level of integrity."

“Stronger, stricter safety standards for shipping crude oil mean safer families living along rail lines," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. "In light of recent accidents in North Dakota and Lac-Mégantic, it’s important that state emergency response teams are notified when trains carrying crude oil are coming through their towns so they can better respond in the event of an accident. I will continue to urge DOT to make progress on these standards, as well as monitor the industry’s growth and day-to-day operations to determine what federal legislation may be needed to prevent even more tragedies from occurring.”