Saturday, August 16, 2014

Public Comments on PHMSA HHFT NPRM – 08-16-14

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will look at the public comments on the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT).

As is typical for the early comments received on a rulemaking, the six comments in the first two weeks of the comment period come from private individuals. Organizations usually take longer to develop, coordinate and publish their comments. Individuals have a shorter response time, but their comments are frequently less technically developed and focus on limited solution sets.

Less than Helpful Comments

One commentor provides an up-to-date list of ‘Reference National Standards for a 21st Century HMR’. Few of the standards on the list have anything to do with this NPRM. Yet another commentor provides a lengthy diatribe against the Surface Transportation Board and railroads in general and proposes a complete reworking of the rail transportation system.

Simple Answers

A commentor from Washington State points out that there will be an increase in oil train traffic in that state in the coming years because of planned port and refinery expansions. This writer wants the DOT-111 cars immediately banned and briefly outlines additional safety measures that should be taken; including:

• Sensible speed limits;
• Rescheduling trains to avoid peak times;
• Notifying affected communities of increasing rail traffic,
• Requiring two operators for each train,
• Requiring at least one of these operators is alert at all times; and
• Automatic brakes (dead-man switches).

Another commentor wants to stop any more increases in crude oil shipments until the railcar fleet is replaced with safer models.

More Detailed Suggestions

Another writer acknowledges the problems with railcar safety and poor system maintenance, but attributes the current problem of “explosions; the 300 foot fireballs, walls of fire, incinerated buildings, vaporized humans, fouled water, and poisoned soil” to the lack of stabilization of the crude oil by removing the most volatile “NGLs” (natural gas liquids). He wants the government of North Dakota to require the removal of NGLs prior to their being loaded for transport.

Another writer of an obvious technical background wants to ensure that the hazard classification of crude oil is correct by requiring a detailed certificate of analysis (that would include “ include dissolved organic and inorganic gasses, % composition of aromatic and aliphatic compounds and their identity and quantification of inorganic substances including radioisotope identification”) to accompany each shipment. He would also require an independent lab corroboration of the analysis at the 95% confidence level.

More Comments to Come

We should start to see comments coming in from some of the industries involved and the various advocacy groups interested in this issue. Interestingly there have not been any requests yet for either public meetings or a delay in the relatively short response window (60 days) provided for this NPRM. That will almost certainly change.

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