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Oil industry sets voluntary rail rules

Facing potential new federal regulations restricting how it can move crude oil by rail, the oil industry is setting its own voluntary standards for safety.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which acts both as a lobbying group for the oil sector and a standard-setting body, published the 46 pages of guidelines Thursday.

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“This particular standard is one element of a much broader approach to safety improvement,” Jack Gerard, president of the API, said in a statement.

“A comprehensive effort that addresses accident prevention, mitigation and response is essential to achieving our goal of zero incidents for crude by rail shipments,” he said.

Following a string of disasters involving oil train explosions, the Transportation Department proposed a set of new rules for oil transport by rail in July.

While those standards and similar ones in Canada seek to phase out old rail cars that are often blamed for the most dangerous explosions, environmentalists and safety advocates have pushed for more action.

The API did not take a stand on that proposal. But in Thursday’s standards, the oil industry is pulling out ahead of the issue with its own actions.

The new standards focus heavily on properly testing crude oil for classification to prepare it for shipment. But the standards also dictate how to fill tank cars so they are not overfilled.

The API said it wants to help the industry to comply with Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rules.

“Proper testing, classification and handling are important when shipping any material subject to PHMSA regulations, and crude oil is no exception,” Gerard said.