Responding in part to the derailment and explosion of a crude-laden tanker in Quebec in July, the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has proposed a rule aimed at improving the safety of the rail transportation of hazardous materials by tanker cars, as well as the rail transportation of shale oil.

"The proposal also applies to the tanker transportation of shale oil," said Patricia Klinger, deputy director for PHMSA's Office of Governmental, International and Public Affairs. She said the agency began working on the proposal several years ago prior to the derailment of the crude oil tanker in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, this summer (see Shale Daily, July 9). A number of the tankers involved in the runaway crash were DOT-111 tank cars.

This led to mounting pressure inside and outside Washington, DC, for the DOT to order the retrofit or phase-out of DOT-111 tank cars that are used to transport crude oil and ethanol by rail.

The DOT-111 tank car is a type of nonpressure tank commonly used in North America to transport oil from basins. Hydraulic fracturing of new wells in shale oil fields has rapidly increased the use of DOT-111 cars to transport crude to refineries along the coasts.

In its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, PHMSA is proposing enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems for DOT 111 tank cars, as well as top fittings protection that exceed current regulations. These steps reflect recommendations from National Transportation Safety Board investigations, while PHMSA said it has already addressed a fifth recommendation with the issuance of an advisory bulletin regarding the protection of pipeline facilities near railways. Public comments are due within 60 days.

PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman recently visited the Bakken Shale region in North Dakota, where she observed first hand rail operations and the application of DOT regulations. The area is one of the largest contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States and is having a significant impact on the nation's transportation system as operators move gas and hazardous liquids from region on trains, trucks and pipelines to locations throughout the country, DOT said.