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US issues emergency order for crude-by-rail

*Editor's Note: For the Canadian perspective on this issue, check out this new blog post from HazMat Editor Guy Crittenden.


*Editor’s NoteFor the Canadian perspective on this issue, check out this new blog post from HazMat Editor Guy Crittenden.


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued an emergency order requiring shippers to test oil product from the Bakken region for proper classification, while also prohibiting rail transport of crude oil in less robust tanker cars.

Issued on February 25, 2014, the order came as the U.S. performs its “Bakken Blitz”, designed to investigate the recent uptick in derailments involving misclassified crude from North Dakota. Accurately labelling tanker car contents is critical to ensure there aren’t gases from the lighter oil produced in North Dakota’s shale rock.  

The oil involved in Quebec’s Lac-Megantic derailment tragedy, which killed 47 people, involved misclassified oil from the Bakken Region. And over February 2014, the DOT issued three violation notices and fines against tank car loaders in North Dakota for downgrading the hazard rating of crude oil shipments from the Bakken.

The second part of the U.S. emergency order protects against crude oil being transported in weaker Packing Group III tanker cars. All Class III crude oil shipments must be designated as Packing Group I or II, thereby requiring the use of a more robust tank car, the U.S. DOT stated.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide — if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “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,” added Foxx.

Emergency orders are issued to protect the public and environment from the likelihood of substantial harm created by an imminent hazard.

Shippers are required to use nine hazard classes as a guide to properly classify their hazardous materials. Proper classification will ensure that the material is placed in the proper package and that the risk is accurately communicated to emergency responders. Shipping crude oil – or any hazardous material – without proper testing and classification could result in material being shipped in containers that are not designed to safely store it, or could lead first responders to follow the wrong protocol when responding to a spill.

In addition to Operation Classification, which includes crude oil spot inspections and investigations, PHMSA will be in Minot, North Dakota this week conducting a classification workshop. Field personnel will present training at the 60th Annual State Fire School sponsored by the North Dakota Firefighters Association to provide information about hazmat response, including how to use the Emergency Response Guidebook.


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