Proposed LNG by Rail Rule Draws Range of Comments

Opinions are flowing in rapidly on a proposal by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to allow trains to transport liquefied natural gas in DOT-113C120W specification rail tank cars.

Opposed are the National Transportation Safety Board, attorneys general of 16 states and at least two U.S. senators.

In favor are railroad trade groups Association of American Railroads, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

The rule change is also being pushed by the Trump administration.

To opponents it is a matter of public safety. The proponents of the rule also cite safety but contend that transporting LNG by rail is safer because of the industry’s “strong safety record” on a ton-mile basis.

Under existing standards, LNG can only be transported by rail with a PHMSA special permit or in a portable tank with Federal Railroad Administration approval.

The dispute began last April when President Trump issued an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to expedite a proceeding so that LNG could be moved by rail tank cars within 13 months.

The proposed rule that is the subject of public comment was issued in October by the PHMSA.

From the administration’s viewpoint, the rule will provide economic benefits by providing additional transportation options for U.S. energy resources.

In a news release, PHMSA said LNG by rail is seen by the administration as a potential alternative to pipelines, which are not always able to meet the demand of or reach certain areas in the United States that are accessible by rail.

Railroad trade groups that favor the rule have sought to play up the safety record of railroads, saying railroads are involved in only 3 percent of hazardous materials incidents that trucks are involved in, despite having roughly equal hazmat ton-mileage.

The trade groups have even called for the proposed rule to be more expansive than it is, calling for PHMSA to allow LNG to be transported by the 113C140 tank car in addition to the 113C120 and dropping proposed limits on the lengths of trains transporting LNG.

For its part the NTSB has said public safety may be at risk without further study of LNG by rail.

The safety agency said the rule should at a minimum include additional route planning requirements; limit trains transporting large blocks of LNG tank cars to a maximum speed of 50 mph; and require LNG trains to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote to PHMSA Administrator Howard Elliott to warn that loosening restrictions on transporting LNG by rail “would pose serious threats to public safety that do not appear to have been adequately considered” by regulators.

In calling for further study they cited multiple accidents involving trains carrying hazardous materials, including a 2016 derailment in Mosier, Oregon, that spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Columbia River Gorge and sparked a large fire.

The attorneys general in opposing the LNG by rail rule said it ignores safety risks and doesn’t substantially address environmental issues.

They, too, want the rule withdrawn until further study and an environmental impact statement can be completed.

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