Energy & Environment

Trump officials roll back Obama oil train safety rule

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The Trump administration on Monday repealed a mandate that would have required trains carrying crude oil to use special brakes with new technology.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said it undertook a congressionally mandated analysis of the provision in a 2015 regulation under which oil trains would have had to use electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

“The Department [of Transportation] determined that the expected benefits, including safety benefits, of implementing ECP brake system requirements do not exceed the associated costs of equipping tank cars with ECP brake systems, and therefore are not economically justified,” PHMSA said.

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The mandate to phase out traditional air brakes for crude oil use was part of a comprehensive rule that the Obama administration wrote in 2015 to try to improve the safety of crude oil trains.

Transporting crude oil by rail has increased dramatically in recent years due to a boost in domestic and Canadian oil production. But with the increased traffic have come major crashes and explosions, like one in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47, one in 2013 in North Dakota and one in Oregon in 2016.

The rule was mainly meant to implement a new design for tank cars that carry crude, with new requirements for metal thickness and fire protection. The brake mandate and speed limits were also in the new regulation.

The brake requirement was a top target for the railroad and oil industries in pushing back against parts of the 2015 rule.

Congress, in the bipartisan Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2016, told the PHMSA to conduct a new cost-benefit analysis of the brake provision. If the costs outweighed the benefits, the PHMSA was required to repeal it.

“Despite the additional testing and modeling, we still believe that there is insufficient data demonstrating that ECP braking systems provide a demonstrable increase in safety over other more widely used braking systems,” the American Petroleum Institute told the PHMSA after it proposed Monday’s action in December.

Tags crude oil oil trains

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