CC# 201400918: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) August 1, 2014, advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), Hazardous Materials: Oil Spill Response Plans for High Hazard Flammable Trains.
The ANPRM is in response to the NTSB’s January 21, 2014, Safety Recommendation R 14 05, which was issued as a result of our participation in the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s (TSB) investigation of the July 6, 2013, derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic freight train in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. Specifically, NTSB recommended that PHMSA:
Revise the spill response planning thresholds contained in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 130 to require comprehensive response plans to effectively provide for the carrier’s ability to respond to worst case discharges resulting from accidents involving unit trains or blocks of tank cars transporting oil and petroleum products. (R 14 05)
Among its requests for comments, PHMSA seeks input on what specific threshold volume would be most appropriate for triggering the requirement for a railroad (carrier) to prepare a comprehensive oil spill response plan (OSRP) and offers four thresholds for consideration:
a. 1 million gallons or more of crude oil per train consist;
b. A high hazard flammable train of 20 or more carloads of crude oil per train consist;
c. 42,000 gallons of crude oil per train consist; or
d. Another threshold.
We note that during the Lac Mégantic accident, 60 railcars released 1.6 million gallons of crude oil. While an appreciable portion of the oil was consumed by fire, the released oil migrated into sanitary sewers and storm drains, contaminated 77 acres of land, and entered Lac Mégantic and the Chaudière River. Estimated cleanup costs have exceeded $1 billion. The ultimate long term environmental costs of the Lac Mégantic derailment have yet to be determined.
Since 2006, there have been 10 railroad derailments in North America involving crude oil tank cars that have released about 2.8 million gallons of crude oil. Because no individual tank car contained at least 42,000 gallons of crude oil, none of the railroad companies involved in the derailments was required to have comprehensive OSRPs for these trains. The most serious of these accidents in the United States was the derailment of 20 tank cars in Casselton, North Dakota, which released 476,000 gallons of crude oil, and the derailment of 26 tank cars in Aliceville, Alabama, which released 456,000 gallons of crude oil. In each of the noted crude oil tank car derailments, each train was transporting a total volume that exceeded the current per package threshold that triggers the requirement to have a comprehensive OSRP, as stated in 49 CFR 130.31 (b). In fact, as noted in the ANPRM, the railroad industry reports it has only five tank cars capable of carrying 42,000 gallons and none of those transport crude oil. In spite of the significant environmental damage that occurred in each of the tank car derailments, the requirement for a railroad company to implement a comprehensive OSRP is effectively nonexistent.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, requires a comprehensive OSRP if an oil spill “could reasonably be expected to cause substantial harm to the environment.” Significant harm to the environment is likely even when a discharge involves a single crude oil tank car, as evidenced in the April 30, 2014, Lynchburg, Virginia, derailment in which the contents of only one 30,000 gallon crude oil tank car spilled into the swiftly moving waters of the James River and ignited. Therefore, of the threshold options being considered by PHMSA, the NTSB believes a 42,000 gallon per consist planning threshold offers the greatest potential for improved emergency response actions.
The NTSB also suggests PHMSA specifically seek input from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Coast Guard (Coast Guard) when considering an appropriate OSRP threshold.
PHMSA also seeks input on whether there should be a regulatory requirement.
Should PHMSA require that the basic and/or the comprehensive OSRPs be provided to State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC), Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERC), Fusion Centers, or other entities designated by each state, and/or made available to the public.
The NTSB believes, at a minimum, both basic and comprehensive plans should be shared with State and Tribal Emergency Response Commissions.
PHMSA also asks if other federal agencies, such as the EPA and the Coast Guard, should jointly review OSRPs with PHMSA.
Should other federal agencies with responsibilities for emergency response under the National Contingency Plan (e.g., US Coast Guard, EPA) also review and comment on the comprehensive ORSP with PHMSA?
The NTSB has no opinion on the appropriateness or utility of a joint review of ORSPs by PHMSA, the Coast Guard, and the EPA. Notwithstanding, the NTSB expects both the Coast Guard and the EPA to have highly relevant experience with OSRPs and with actual event histories. As such, the NTSB believes these agencies will be able to offer useful expertise and advice to PHMSA regarding whether modifications should be made to the existing regulatory requirements for OSRPs.
The NTSB applauds PHMSA’s quick effort in addressing Safety Recommendation R 14 5 and looks forward to further progress toward addressing the potential environmental impacts of transportation related oil spills.