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Schumer calls for safer oil onboard “oil trains”

WASHINGTON – Continuing his efforts to make sure that “oil trains” passing through Buffalo and other New York communities do not derail and explode, Sen. Charles E. Schumer Wednesday called on the federal government to require the oil in those tanker cars be made less volatile before it is shipped.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, Schumer said the especially volatile Bakken crude that’s shipped through the state should be treated before it is ever put in tank cars to make deadly explosions less likely.

“Bakken crude oil is much more volatile and prone to explosion than other types of crude, making it particularly hazardous when tank cars derail or puncture, no matter how strong the cars may be,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We need an all-of-the-above approach to safety, so I am urging the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to develop a plan that would require oil companies to stabilize the crude oil to a certain standard before it is even loaded onto oil trains.”

The Department of Transportation is finalizing a new set of rules aimed at making the tanker cars that carry that oil eastward from North Dakota’s oil-rich Bakken Shale, but Schumer – who pushed for the new railcar rules – said improvements to the railcars alone is not enough.

That’s because a 2014 report by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found that the light, sweet Bakken crude is more volatile than the heavier oil from many other places, meaning it is easier to ignite.

Oil can be treated, though, to reduce its volatility, and Schumer is suggesting that the federal government require oil companies to use “stabilization technology” to do just that.

He noted that the Bakken crude that was being shipped on trains that derailed – including the one that resulted in an explosion and 47 deaths in Lac-Megantic, Que., as well as a recent accident in West Virginia – was not treated to reduce its volatility.

“Until the stability of the crude being loaded into the tank cars themselves is improved, disasters like those listed above could continue to occur,” Schumer said in his letter to the Transportation and Energy secretaries. “That is why it is critical that your agencies work together to develop a standard to address this issue as quickly as possible.”

New York State reported last July that upwards of 44 such “oil trains” cross the state every week. That includes between 20 and 35 CSX Transportation oil trains that enter the state in Chautauqua County before moving north through Buffalo and several of its suburbs and then eastward toward the Port of Albany.