Tuesday, October 1, 2019

HR 4306 Introduced – Evaluate LNG by Rail

Earlier this month Rep. DeFazio (D,OR) introduced HR 4306, the Protecting Communities from Liquefied Natural Gas Trains Act. The bill would require DOT to “conduct an evaluation of the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting liquefied natural gas by rail” {§2(a)}.


Section 2 of the bill would give the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in coordination with the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), 18 months to conduct the LNG by rail evaluation. The evaluation would include {§2(b)}:

Performing physical testing of rail tank cars, including, at a minimum, the DOT–113 specification, to ensure such rail tank cars are able to withstand the effects of an accident or impact and prevent or mitigate the release of liquefied natural gas;
Analyzing multiple release scenarios, including derailments, front-end collisions, rear-end collisions, side-impact collisions, grade-crossing collisions, punctures, and impact of an incendiary device, at a minimum of 3 speeds of travel with a sufficient range of speeds to evaluate the safety, security, and environmental risks posed under real-world operating conditions; and
Examining the effects of exposure to climate conditions across rail networks, including temperature, humidity, and any other factors that the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration determines could influence performance of the inner or outer walls of rail tank cars.

The evaluation would also consider {§2(c)}:

The benefits of route restrictions, speed restrictions, enhanced brake requirements, personnel requirements, rail tank car technological requirements, and other operating controls;
The advisability of consist restrictions, including limitations on the arrangement and quantity of rail cars carrying liquefied natural gas in any given consist;
The identification of potential impact areas, and the number of homes and structures that would be endangered by a discharge in rural, suburban, and urban environments;
the impact of discharge on the environment, including examining environmentally sensitive areas with rail tracks that move through them;
The benefits of advanced notification to the Department of Transportation, State Emergency Response Commissions, and Tribal Emergency Response Commissions of routes for moving liquefied natural gas by rail tank car;
How first responders respond to a discharge, including the extent to which specialized equipment or training would be required and the cost to communities for acquiring any necessary equipment or training;
Whether thermal radiation could occur from a discharge;
An evaluation of rail tank cars authorized by the Secretary of Transportation, a determination of which rail tank car would provide the best outcome in the event of a discharge, and a determination of whether a new standard is necessary to ensure the safety of rail transport of liquefied natural gas; and
The risks posed by the transportation of liquefied natural gas by International Standard for Organization containers authorized by the Federal Railroad Administration.


Section 2(d) requires a that DOT submit a comprehensive report to congress on the results of the evaluation. Subsequently the GAO would be required to review the evaluation conducted by DOT to ensure that it “complied with the requirements of this Act” {§2(f)}. The bill then provides for a specific congressional review period for the evaluation data provided by DOT.

Finally, DOT is prohibited from issuing “any regulation authorizing the transportation of liquefied natural gas by rail or authorize such transportation through issuance of a special permit or approval before the conclusion of the review period” {§2(g)(2)}.

Moving Forward

DeFazio is the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to which this bill was referred for consideration. He certainly has the influence necessary to have the bill considered in Committee. I suspect that there will be significant Republican opposition to the bill’s requirement for congressional review of the evaluation before DOT can proceed with a special permit for the rail transportation of LNG. This opposition will not be sufficient to stop the bill from being favorably reported by the Committee.

The opposition would ensure that the bill would have to be taken up under regular order in the House. The bill would still be able to be passed but getting the time for it to be considered could be a problem with the wide range of Democratic legislative priorities leading up to the 2020 election. This is further aggravated by the recent decision to proceed with considering the impeachment of President Trump.

There is a possibility that DeFazio could allow a Republican amendment to the regulation delay provisions of §2(g) that could allow for at least some bipartisan support of the bill in Committee and give the leadership some reason to believe that the bill could get the supermajority required for passage under the suspension of the rules process.


I have discussed DeFazio’s opposition to the LNG by rail special permit in my post about the passage of HR 3055. This is obviously a continuation of that opposition. As I noted in my earlier post, the House has already passed (and funded) a PHMSA study on the safety of transporting LNG by rail. Whether or not that funding remains in the spending bill remains to be seen. A lot of things will change between now and the final passage of the FY 2020 spending bills.

I was kind of surprised at the citation of the DOT 113 specification rail car in this bill. I went back and looked at PHMSA’s proposed special permit (DOT-SP 20534) for LNG by rail, and it does specify the DOT 113120W tank car and at least one company is advertising a DOT 113 car for use in shipping LNG by rail (subject to a special permit). So, it would certainly seem that DeFazio’s citing that car is appropriate.

I would have expected the use of the DOT 107 rail cars for the shipment of LNG, though they are probably a more expensive rail car carrying smaller amounts of product. They would, however, reduce the amount of LNG lost due to a puncture of the tank (on the 107; one of multiple tanks versus the single tank on the 113) during a derailment. Additionally, the specification for the DOT 107 car requires (49 CFR 179.500-12) the use of a flare system on the pressure relief devices on the rail car when flammables are transported; that is not required for DOT 113 cars.

Flares (for controlled burning of flammable vapor releases) are used frequently in fixed sites and have a long history of preventing flammable vapor clouds from being a severe problem. The use of such devices on rail cars and tank wagons would be more problematic. In fixed site operations a great deal of thought goes into the safe placement of the devices; generally, far away from flammable gas/liquid storage. In transportation operations that sight selectivity is going to be more problematic, even while the vehicle is upright. When the vehicle is on the side after a derailment, the flaring off of overpressure gasses into the side wall of another flammable gas/liquid transport vessel could be more of an issue than a vapor cloud that is dissipating in the wind.

The transportation of liquified natural gas is getting to be a bigger thing as more of the product is being extracted in many of the nation’s oilfields, either as a main product or an increasing byproduct of crude oil extraction. Pipeline transportation would probably be safer per ton/mile but constructing pipelines for the new sources takes time and money. Rail is safer than the other alternative (truck) but will have inevitable problems as no transportation system is inherently safe.

Arguably we should expect FRA and PHMSA from conducting a through evaluation of transportation of LNG by rail before it is approved as a special permit or a more formal rulemaking (PHMSA has sent an notice of proposed rulemaking to OMB for review). DeFazio believes that the Administration is shortcutting that safety evaluation and this bill is his attempt to fix that problem. It will be interesting to see how this bill moves forward in the current political climate.

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