WASHINGTON - Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Friday urged the Department of Transportation to ensure railroads notify states of all oil shipments moving by train, not just oil from one region of the country, as a DOT emergency order issued earlier this week required.
The emergency order announced by the DOT on Wednesday would only require rail companies to notify State Emergency Response Commissions of rail shipments of oil produced in the Bakken Formation region found in Montana and North and South Dakota, and does not address oil-by-rail shipments from oil produced in other regions of the country.
"We feel strongly that this emergency order could be strengthened and improved by including oil produced in – and transported from – other parts of North America, rather than limiting it to trains originating in the Bakken region," the senators wrote in the letter.
Domestic oil production is at its highest point since 1988, with rising production in states including Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah.
A series of oil train derailments like the one last year in Lac Megantic, near Quebec, where 47 people died after a train carrying crude oil exploded, have caused lawmakers to take a closer look at the potentially devastating impacts of transporting increasing amounts of oil by rail, regardless of its source.
Oregon's senators have been pushing for more resources for communities after hearing from first responders in Oregon that emergency officials need more information to be able to respond appropriately when accidents do occur.
In April, Wyden and Merkley, along with 14 other senators, pressed Congress to create a new fund dedicated to responding to energy transportation-related accidents.
Read the full text of Friday's letter below.
May 9, 2014
The Honorable Anthony Foxx
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Secretary Foxx:
We write with concern that the emergency order issued this week by the Department of Transportation requiring railroads to notify states of crude -by-rail shipments is inadequate given that its scope is limited solely to oil transported from the Bakken region. We believe the emergency order is an important step toward improving safety, and that it echoes concerns we have heard both from Oregon first responders, as well as recent testimony to the National Transportation Safety Board.
We feel strongly that this emergency order could be strengthened and improved by including oil produced in – and transported from – other parts of North America, rather than limiting it to trains originating in the Bakken region. It is true that a majority of crude oil currently carried by railroads originates in the Bakken, and a great deal of attention has been focused there since recent accidents, spills, fires and explosions have involved trains carrying Bakken crude. However, the DOT should not lose sight of the fact that crude-by-rail shipments are not limited to trains originating in the Bakken. Domestic oil production recently reached its highest point since 1988, and the rapid increase in crude-by-rail shipments since 2009 has included multiple states and multiple oil-producing regions across North America. Any accident involving a crude oil train, whether from the Bakken or elsewhere, poses serious risks to public health, safety and the environment.
The Oregonian recently reported that Union Pacific is operating oil trains on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge with crude oil produced in Utah. These trains transport far more than the 1,000,000-gallon minimum that would trigger state notification requirements under the emergency order. Such non-Bakken oil trains are not limited to Oregon. Reuters recently reported that at least two dozen facilities load, handle or receive non-Bakken crude oil, totaling tens if not hundreds of thousands of barrels daily, as illustrated in the attached table. Furthermore, both Union Pacific and BNSF Railway promote network access to oil-producing basins including the Eagle Ford, Permian, Uinta and Powder River, in states including Texas, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Finally, the exclusion of other regions is not consistent with the Department's previous emergency orders, which recognized the widespread, multi-region practice of shipping crude by rail.
Therefore, we strongly encourage you to reconsider the emergency order's scope in order to encompass all oil trains carrying more than 1,000,000 gallons. In so doing, the DOT will give state and local emergency officials critical information about how to best respond to potential crude-by-rail accidents that occur within their jurisdictions.
Thank you for your consideration.
Ron Wyden Jeff Merkley
U.S. Senator U.S. Senator