Rail carriers must test crude oil to ensure that it is properly classified before transport, and are prohibited from using the weakest packing classification for crude, under an emergency order issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

In a 17-page order (Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0025) issued Tuesday, DOT said rail carriers must perform proper testing of crude “with sufficient frequency and quality” before being transported. The carriers are also required, until further notice, to treat crude as a Packing Group (PG) I or II hazardous material, effectively forbidding its classification under PG III.

“The shipments are an imminent hazard when PG I or II petroleum crude oil is misclassified as PG III, which could lead to an improper package being used to transport the misclassified hazardous material,” DOT said.

The order is the latest in a series of moves by federal regulators after three derailments in 2013 involving trains carrying crude from the Bakken Shale. An investigation into the derailments is part of DOT’s Operation Classification, also known as the “Bakken Blitz.”

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide,” said DOT Secretary Anthony Fox. “If you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately. And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups.

“From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

Last July, an unattended freight train transporting Bakken crude rolled downhill, derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killing 42 people (see Shale Daily, July 9, 2013).

Six months later, a 90-car crude oil train loaded with Bakken crude heading to a refinery in Florida derailed in a rural area near Aliceville, AL. According to DOT, more than 20 cars derailed and at least 11 ignited, causing an explosion and fire. Although no one was injured in the incident, an undetermined amount of crude fouled a wetlands area, causing an estimated $3.9 million in damage.

On Dec. 30, 2013, a BNSF train carrying Bakken crude hit a grain train traveling in the opposite direction that had derailed earlier near Casselton, ND. The crash caused 21 cars carrying crude to derail, 18 of which subsequently ruptured and exploded (see Shale Daily, Dec. 31, 2013). There were no injuries, but about 1,400 were evacuated. Damage is estimated at $8 million.

After the derailment in Quebec, DOT’s Federal Rail Administration (FRA) issued an emergency order to help prevent trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally. In a separate action, FRA and DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a safety advisory that included a list of recommendations for railroads to follow (see NGI, Aug. 12, 2013). The agencies issued a supplementary safety advisory in November.

FRA also convened an emergency session of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) last August. RSAC set up three working groups tasked with formulating new rulemaking recommendations for hazardous shipments by rail, appropriate train crew sizes and train securement procedures. The groups are expected to make their recommendations by April.

PHMSA announced in September that it was proposing a rule requiring enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems on DOT-111 tank cars, which are commonly used to transport crude oil (see Shale Daily, Sept. 10, 2013). DOT said it received 135 comments over the proposed rule during a public comment period, which expired in December.

Last summer, U.S. lawmakers urged DOT to either require retrofitting of DOT-111 tank cars or to phase them out completely (see Shale Daily, July 25, 2013).

DOT said that in recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to FRA and PHMSA on Jan. 23, there were indications that Canadian authorities investigating the Quebec derailment had tested crude oil from nine undamaged tank cars and determined that they had been incorrectly assigned a PG III classification, rather than PG II.

“[This] is clear evidence of an ongoing problem with classification of petroleum crude that is being shipped by rail,” DOT said. “The continuing misclassification has consequences with regard to the type of packaging in which the petroleum crude oil is transported, the protections those packages provide if an accident occurs, and, notably with regard to emergency responders, sufficient knowledge about the hazards of the materials being transported so that if an accident occurs, they can respond appropriately.”

NTSB and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada have called for tougher standards for crude oil rail shipments in both countries (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23).

Earlier this month, Hess Corp., Whiting Oil and Gas Corp. and Marathon Oil Co. were levied fines totaling $93,000 from PHMSA’s Operation Classification probe (see Shale Daily,Feb. 5).