Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PHMSA Announces Oil Spill Response Planning Workshop

Today the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a meeting announcement in the Federal Register (81 FR 17765-17766) for a public workshop to be held in Washington, DC on April 12th, 2016. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss Oil Spill Response Plans covered by PHMSA’s 49 CFR Part 130 and Part 194 regulations. The meeting will be web cast.

The Notice

The notice does not include an agenda for the meeting; that will be published at a later date on the meeting web site. The notice does explain that the workshop will “bring federal regulators, interested members of the public, industry, and other stakeholders together to share knowledge and experiences with oil spill response planning and preparedness, gather ideas for harmonizing PHMSA’s regulations with other agencies, and discuss practical ways regulated entities can better plan and prepare for an oil spill.”

Public Participation

The meeting and the web cast are both open to the public. Advance registration for attending the meeting in person is recommended because of limited seating. Registration can be completed on the meeting web site.  Written comments may be submitted up to 30 days after the workshop. Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (; Docket # PHMSA-2016-0021).


As I have mentioned a number of times in this blog, the biggest shortcoming in the oil spill response planning requirements for both PHMSA and the Coast Guard is that they only address the environmental impacts of oil contamination of water ways. While this is certainly an important area of concern, the crude-oil train accidents of the last couple of years have pointed out a serious problem of more immediate safety concern to the public; fires and explosions related to highly hazardous flammable train (HHFT) derailments.

The recent increase in the number and size or unit trains (most commonly crude oil and ethanol, but also other commodity hazardous chemicals) has greatly increased the chance that a hazardous material containing railcar will be involved in any given derailment. With the flammability of ethanol and many varieties of crude oil, the chance of a catastrophic fire related to these derailments has increased dramatically. Most fire departments cannot afford to keep the specialized firefighting equipment on hand to deal with these hazmat fires, especially given the very low chance of occurrence of an HHFT derailment in any particular community.

Federal, State and local governments, along with the railroads and hazmat shippers need to come together to address the increased risk of HHFT derailment fires. This PHMSA workshop should be a good place to start that discussion.

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