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NYCOM Closely Monitoring Crude Oil Transport Safety Standards


The tragic train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Canada in July 2013, which killed 47 people, destroyed 30 buildings, and damaged or destroyed over 100 businesses, raised serious concerns about the safety of trains transporting crude oil not only in Canada, but in the United States as well. Concerns for the public's safety here in New York were recently heightened following the train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 30th, which resulted in a massive fire in the heart of the City and thousands of gallons of oil being spilled into the James River. In addition, relatively minor derailments here in New York have many NYCOM members questioning the safety standards for transporting crude oil in their communities.

Safety concerns has been exacerbated by the substantial rise in transportation of crude oil via rail. Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology have increased the production of oil, specifically from the Bakken geological formation in the Western United States and Canada. This increase in oil production from the Bakken formation has resulted in an increase in rail transportation of crude oil from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 400,000 car loads in 2013. It is also important to note that Bakken crude oil contains high levels of combustible gases and is unusually flammable.

Although the regulation and implementation of rail safety standards is primarily the responsibility of the Federal Government, NYCOM has been monitoring this issue closely and working with our partners at the National League of Cities (NLC) to keep you informed on the latest developments regarding the safety standards of crude oil transport. In addition, we encourage you to review your local emergency management/response plans to ensure that they address railway incidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued an Emergency Order requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCS) about the operation of these trains through their states. In addition, the U.S. DOT's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline 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.

For additional information on this issue, please see below: