Gov. Wolf asks President Obama for help to prevent oil train accidents

Freight train
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Following a number or recent derailments and explosions of trains carrying crude from the Bakken shale in Pennsylvania, on 26th February, Governor Wolf wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to express concern and call for action to improve the safety of transportation of crude oil by rail in the state.

“As you know, Pennsylvania is blessed with abundant natural resources, including shale gas,” wrote Governor Wolf. “The transport of some shale energy resources, and particularly Bakken shale oil, however, raises particularly significant safety concerns. Pennsylvania sees some of the largest volume of Bakken crude oil transportation by rail in the United States, and I am asking for the federal government’s assistance to make sure that transportation of oil by train is safe. I have already taken actions to address this issue including holding emergency trainings, participating in meetings with executives, and tasking my administration to put plans in place to both prevent accidents and mitigate impacts. We also need expedited federal regulatory action in several areas along with a greater commitment to funding inspection and enforcement. We cannot afford to wait for a major incident before taking action.”

The letter points out that, each week, roughly sixty to seventy trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region travel through the Commonwealth destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery. There have already been four train derailments in the state since January, 2014, including 2 within the city of Philadelphia.

Furthermore, the United States Department of Transportation just released an analysis regarding transportation of crude oil and ethanol across the nation. This analysis indicates that, under current conditions, over the next two decades these trains may derail some ten times per year and potentially fifteen times in 2015. It also indicates that an accident in a high-population area could kill more than two-hundred people and cause some six-billion dollars in damages.

“The potential for disaster is too great to ignore,” writes Governor Wolf, outlining steps that have already been taken to increase safety of trains travelling through Pennsylvania, and suggesting further changes. “Expedited federal regulatory action in several areas is essential in better ensuring safety,” writes Mr Wolf.

Measures suggested in the letter include:

  1. First, consistent national standards to reduce the volatility of crude oil prior to transportation are a must. North Dakota currently is taking steps in this regard. But we have to ensure all Bakken crude has been treated to remove dangerous volatiles and is transported under the appropriate pressure and other relevant conditions.
  2. Second, current federal standards have reduced speeds to forty miles-per-hour in high-density urban areas. It is instructive to note that recent derailments and explosions have occurred at speeds less than this limit. I therefore respectfully request further review of this matter and revisions to the speed limit as necessary to ensure against explosive derailments.
  3. Third, inspections by government inspectors of rail infrastructure must be enhanced. In Pennsylvania we have only six inspectors trained with the support of federal resources, even though we have some five thousand miles of track, among the highest in the nation. I request additional federal assistance to assist us in hiring and training an adequate number of rail safety inspectors.
  4. Fourth, the current standards for tank cars and braking systems are not sufficient. Recent accidents in West Virginia and Ontario both led to large oil fires, even though the tank cars were of new and more stringent design. Braking systems and tank car standards must be enhanced to reduce risk.
  5. Finally, the pace of federal rulemaking on rail safety is too slow. We urge that new federal safety rules be developed and implemented with a sense of urgency appropriate to the risk presented.

“Now is the time for action in order to increase safety and reduce risk,” concludes Governor Wolf.

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