DOT Announces Proposal to Require Rail Carriers Transporting Crude Oil or Other High-Hazard Flammable Liquids to Have Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Following a years-long push from U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a proposed rule today to require a comprehensive oil spill response plan for rail carriers transporting crude oil or other high-hazard flammable liquids. 

“Each day, millions of barrels of crude are transported by rail in our country.  While the vast majority of these shipments are made without incident, tragedies like that which occurred in Lac Mégantic, as well as several derailments in Maine, demonstrate the need for improved oversight to help mitigate these accidents,” said Senator Collins.  “I am encouraged that the DOT has finally released a proposed rule to help increase the safety of crude oil shipments by rail, and I look forward to continuing to work with the DOT as they seek public input and work to finalize this rule.”

"This rulemaking is an important step toward providing vital protections and information to communities across the country where oil is transported,” said Senator Reed.  “Chairman Collins and I directed PHMSA to move forward with this rulemaking in the THUD appropriations bill to safeguard American citizens, communities, and the environment with the support of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am pleased to see the Department following our repeated legislative mandates by requiring comprehensive crude oil response planning, deployment of incident response equipment, information sharing, and accurate testing of crude oil.”

The proposed rule issued by the DOT has three components that will:

  • Require a comprehensive oil spill response plan for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) carrying liquid petroleum oil to be able to respond to the worse case discharge.
  • Require carriers to share information regarding all HHFTs with state and tribal emergency response commissions, as required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.  This requirement is similar to a May 2014 emergency order issued by DOT, but is permanent and applies to a wider range of commodities. 
  • Incorporate by reference a newer boiling point test class 3 packing groups, which includes the mixed hydrocarbons in Bakken crude oil that has been problematic in recent years.

An oil spill response plan is intended to help carriers identify and deploy a response organization to contain and remediate an oil release. The plans require carriers to identify a qualified individual with full authority to implement removal actions, ensure the availability of personnel and equipment to remove a worst-case discharge, and describe training, equipment testing, drills and exercises.

Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed have strongly urged the DOT to finalize rulemaking to increase the safety of crude oil rail shipments.  In the past three THUD Appropriations bills, Senators Collins and Reed helped secure legislative language to require the DOT to address this issue.  During a THUD hearing last year, the Senators questioned DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx about the Department’s lack of progress on issuing a proposed rule.

Moreover, in April of 2014, Senator Collins co-led a THUD Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on rail safety.  The hearing focused on the horrific 2013 rail accident in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, where a runaway crude oil train derailed, killing 47 people.  At the invitation of Senator Collins, Tim Pellerin, the Fire Chief of Rangeley whose department was among the eight Maine fire departments that responded to the Lac Mégantic disaster, testified.  Chief Pellerin shared his unique, frontline perspective in responding to incidents involving hazardous materials.