New York AG calls for tougher oil train rules

New York’s attorney general is calling on the federal government to close a “loophole” in the safety rules regarding crude oil transportation by rail.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the Transportation Department ought to limit the volatility of oil that can be transported on the nation’s rails.


Citing recent disasters involving oil train derailments in the last two years, Schneiderman said volatility standards are necessary to reduce the chances of oil exploding or catching fire.

“Recent catastrophic rail accidents send a clear warning that we need to do whatever we can to reduce the dangers that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State,” he said in a statement.

“The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”

The formal petition filed Wednesday with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration asks that the vapor pressure — a measure of the pressure exerted by the vapor coming off the crude oil — be limited to 9 pounds per square inch for oil movements by rail.

Volatility standards were left out of the Transportation Department’s suite of oil train safety regulations made final in May. Those rules focused instead on construction of the tank cars carrying oil and various operational rules, like speed and braking.

Officials had argued that they lack the authority under current law to regulate volatility of oil carried by train.

Safety and environmental groups, along with some Democrats, have pushed for legislation that would give regulators authority over volatility and obligate them to write rules.

Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation Senators press federal agencies for more information on Russian cyberattack New FCC commissioner's arrival signals gridlock early next year MORE (D-Wash.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSeven Senate races to watch in 2022 Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  MORE (D-Wis.) led an effort earlier this year to require volatility standards for oil trains.

Crude oil can be more or less volatile depending, among other factors, on where it is drilled. Different research has come to different conclusions about whether oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation — where the oil boom of recent years has been centered — is more volatile than other varieties, and the federal government is currently studying the issue.