June 11, 2014

Wyden, Merkley Seek Answers on Oil Trains Order

Washington, D.C. – To help first responders in Oregon and other states receive better information about oil trains traveling through their communities, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley asked the National Transportation Safety Board about the sufficiency of last month’s emergency order issued by the Department of Transportation, in a letter yesterday.

The DOT’s emergency order currently requires railroad companies to notify states of crude oil shipments only from the Bakken region, primarily in North Dakota. After hearing from Oregon first responders that more information is needed to prepare for potential oil train accidents, Wyden and Merkley urged the DOT to expand its emergency order to include notification of crude-by-rail shipments from all regions of the country, not just the Bakken, in a letter last month. 

“Much of the attention in the press and among regulators has focused on oil from the Bakken region,” the senators wrote. “…We remain concerned that the emergency order does not go far enough in providing critical information that would allow first responders to better protect the public from a potentially catastrophic accident.”

Wyden and Merkley also asked the NTSB whether the 1,000,000-gallon threshold in the emergency order will sufficiently cover oil trains transported in smaller volumes on railroads. They specifically asked for data on accidents that resulted in spills of 1,000,000 million gallons or less – about one-third of the volume carried by mile-long “unit trains.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent agency responsible for investigating every accident involving planes and significant train, pipeline, marine and highway transportation accidents. As a result, the NTSB is uniquely qualified with the experience and data to provide an independent perspective on the DOT’s emergency order.

Last year, more than 11 million barrels of oil were transported by rail through Oregon, compared to almost 3 million barrels in 2012 – an increase of about 250 percent. Crude-by-rail shipments have risen rapidly and North American rail networks are now crowded with oil trains crisscrossing the continent, passing through communities like Lac Megantic, near Quebec, where 47 people died from an  oil train explosion last year. 

Domestic oil production is at its highest level since 1988, and energy companies have increasingly relied on railroads to move oil from oil fields to coastal refineries.

Related Files