On May 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued an Emergency Order requiring all railroad carriers “transporting 1,000,000 gallons or more of Bakken crude oil” (approximately 35 tank cars) to notify state emergency officials of the train’s expected movements and operations in each state.

Within 30 days of the Order, the carriers must provide written notice of the expected volume and frequency of train traffic to each state’s Emergency Response Commission (ERC), including

  • A reasonable estimate of the number of trains carrying 1,000,000 gallons or more of Bakken crude oil that are expected to travel, per week, through each county within the state;
  • Identification, description and classification of the petroleum crude oil expected to be transported, 49 CFR part 172, subpart C;
  • All applicable emergency response information required by 49 CFR part 172, subpart G;
  • Identification of the routes over which the trains will travel; and
  • Identification of at least one railroad person to be a point of contact for emergency officials.

Updated notifications must be made when there is a material change in the volume of the trains. The USDOT considers any increase or decrease of 25% or more in the number of trains per week to be a material change.

With the required information, each state’s ERC and local responders can prepare for the possibility of an accident. To enhance emergency response efforts, the USDOT recommends that “railroads continue to commit resources to develop specialized crude oil by rail training and tuition assistance program for local first responders” through the Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response program and other initiatives.

Also, on May 7, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Safety Alert recommending that carriers “use tank car designs with the highest level of integrity,” including “tank shell jacket systems, head shields, and top fittings protection.”

According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “[t]he safety of our nation’s railroad system, and the people who live along rail corridors is of paramount concern. 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.”

Read additional information on transporting Bakken crude oil by rail.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.