Monday, July 11, 2016

OMB Approves PHMSA HHFT Oil Spill Response Plan NPRM

On Friday the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) announced that it had approved the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) notice of proposed rulemaking on “Oil Spill Response Plans and Information Sharing for High-Hazard Flammable Trains”. The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) for this rulemaking was published in August of 2014. The NPRM was sent to OIRA  back in February.

It is interesting to note that there was a significant change in the title of this rulemaking after the ANPRM was published. Originally titled: “Oil Spill Response Plans for High-Hazard Flammable Trains”, the new title (which added the words ‘and Information Sharing’) was first used in the Fall 2015 Unified Agenda. It was not until the Spring 2016 agenda was published that we were able to see how that might affect the scope of the rulemaking. The abstract for the rulemaking now states:

“This rulemaking, developed in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration, would revise PHMSA's regulations to expand the applicability of comprehensive oil spill response plans (OSRPs) based on thresholds of liquid petroleum oil that apply to an entire train. We are also proposing to revise the format and clarify requirements of a comprehensive OSRP and to require railroads to share information [emphasis added] about high-hazard flammable train operations with state and tribal emergency response organizations (i.e., State Emergency Response Commissions and Tribal Emergency Response Commissions) to improve community preparedness. Lastly, PHMSA is proposing an update to boiling point testing [emphasis added] procedures to provide regulatory flexibility and promotes enhanced safety in transport through accurate packing group assignment.”

The information sharing provisions should be fairly straight forward, but it will be interesting to see how PHMSA deals with the terrorism fears on subsequent information sharing by State agencies. What will be very interesting to see is how PHMSA plans to deal with the crude oil volatility issue being addressed by the changes to boiling point testing (see my post about their earlier Safety Advisory on the topic). The wording in Unified Agenda does not seem to indicate that PHMSA will be using the controversial vapor pressure testing that many environmental and safety advocates have been calling for. I have addressed some of the problems with vapor pressure testing in an earlier blog post.

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