The U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) issued an emergency order Wednesday advising against the use of older, more vulnerable railroad tank cars for shipment of Bakken Shale crude, and requiring railroads operating trains carrying large amounts of Bakken oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) when the trains are moving through their states.

DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a safety advisory strongly urging those shipping or offering Bakken crude oil to use tank car designs with the highest level of integrity available in their fleets. PHMSA and FRA advised offerors and carriers to the extent possible to avoid the use of older legacy DOT Specification 111 or CTC 111 tank cars for the shipment of Bakken crude oil.

The action came after Canada’s Transportation Safety Board last month issued new rules for crude-carrying rail tank cars and as DOT’s own proposed new rules meander through the approval process. The latest report was that the proposed rules including enhanced tank car standards had been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for a final review (see Shale Daily, May 2).

Canadian actions included removing the least crash-resistant crude tank cars from use; requiring emergency response assistance plans for shipments of crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel and ethanol; creating a task force of industry and local government representatives; and requiring railways to reduce the speed of trains carrying “dangerous goods,” of which crude and ethanol are included.

The impetus for the regulatory actions came following several fiery crashes on both sides of the border involving rail tank cars hauling Bakken crude, which reportedly is more volatile, including an accident in a small town in Quebec that wiped out 47 of its residents.

“The safety of our nation’s railroad system, and the people who live along rail corridors is of paramount concern,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today’s actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars.”

Effective immediately, the Emergency Order (Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067), requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil, or approximately 35 tank cars, in a particular state provide the SERC notification regarding the expected movement of such trains through the counties in that state.

The notification must include estimated volumes of Bakken crude oil being transported, frequencies of anticipated train traffic, and the route through which Bakken crude oil will be transported. The emergency order also requires the railroads provide contact information for at least one responsible party at the host railroads to the SERCs.

The emergency order advises railroads to assist the SERCs as necessary to share the information with the appropriate emergency responders in affected communities.

FRA and PHMSA also issued a joint Safety Advisory, No. 2014-01, to the rail industry strongly recommending the use of tank cars with the highest level of integrity in their fleet when transporting Bakken crude oil.

The Transportation Department said it continues to pursue a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach in minimizing risk and ensuring the safe transport of crude oil. FRA and PHMSA have undertaken more than a dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil over the last 10 months.

This comprehensive approach includes immediate and long-term steps such as: launching “Operation Classification” in the Bakken region to verify that crude oil is being properly classified; issuing safety advisories, alerts, emergency orders and regulatory updates; conducting special inspections; moving forward with a rulemaking to enhance tank car standards; and reaching agreement with railroad companies on a series of immediate voluntary actions they can take by reducing speeds, increasing inspections, using new brake technology and investing in first responder training.