Saturday, December 28, 2019

LNG by Rail Comments – 12-28-19

Comments continue to be submitted on the PHMSA liquified natural gas by rail NPRM. This holiday week there were a total of 44 comments submitted. I have discussed previous submissions:

As with earlier comments, most submissions were from private citizens with concerns about the safe transportation of LNG gas. Unfortunately, no new information there. The following submissions were move involved and will require PHMSA to address at least some of their comments.


Letter Writing Campaign

I have mentioned a number of times that I have been surprised that there has not been a letter writing campaign organized in opposition to this rulemaking by one of the many environmental groups that would clearly be against any expansion of LNG transportation or production. This week we saw the first such campaign being conducted in an interesting way. The submission from RGV (Rio Grande Valley?) contains 28 identical letters in opposition to the NPRM for environmental, safety and environmental justice reasons.

We have seen a number of comments (LFFD and BFD this week) from small town fire departments that could be impacted by derailments of LNG trains. While there is nothing new in these comments, they still bear reading by anyone concerned with LNG shipments by rail.

Buffer Cars

BLET questions the lack of buffer car requirements (number of non-hazmat carrying railcars between locomotives and first LNG car) in the NPRM. They note that since a locomotive is an obvious ignition source in the event of a derailment, the ability of the train crew to disconnect and remove that potential source of ignition could be the key factor in preventing a catastrophic fire.

Railcar Safety

RSICTC notes that the design criteria for the DOT 113C120 railcars specifically addresses the physical hazards of temperature and pressure found in LNG transport.

RSICTC recommends increasing the maximum filling density to 37.7%, allowing a 13% reduction in the number of railcars needed to transport a given volume of LNG. This density would provide for similar fill characteristics to other cryogenic products authorized for transport in those railcars.

RSICTC recommends decreasing the maximum offering pressure from 15-psig to 10-psig; returning to the industry standard practice of ensuring a 30-day hold time not the 20-day hold time suggested in the NPRM>

Fire and Explosion Risk

DRN reports that “the fact that a BLEVE [boiling liquid, expanding vapor explosion] can occur with LNG has only recently been established” and complains that PHMSA has not taken that into account in its NPRM.

Legal Objections

The 25-page submission from PIT raises a number of legal issues related to this rulemaking including:

• Failure to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act;
• The NPRM’s analysis of affected entities excludes Tribes;
• Violation of EO 12898, Environmental Justice; and
• PHMSA has artificially narrowed the scope of the proposed rules impact;


We still have three weeks in the extended comment period, and we are starting to see more voices raised in at least partial opposition to this NPRM. The few fully supportive commenters to date (NGVA this week for instance) are mainly supportive of the NPRM for economic reasons and have done little to respond or counteract the negative comments. This is, of course, not unusual in any even slightly controversial rulemaking.

The PIT comments this week take an interesting look at the rulemaking. There is no way that I can comment on the legal aspects of their comments (my legal training consists of three undergraduate law courses), but they do raise some interesting complaints. The issues about environmental justice and tribal rights will probably be ignored by PHMSA. PHMSA looks at this as a hazmat shipping issue, with the only people ‘affected’ by the NPRM being shippers and rail carriers. In one sense that narrow focus is justified; that is where PHMSA’s technical expertise rests. This is why the OMB and their Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs get involved in the rulemaking process; they are the ones that are supposed to look out for many of these other issues. Unfortunately, I do not see that as being a major focus for OIRA or OMB in this Administration.

The most serious comments from PHMSA’s point of view this week will be those from RSICTC. This group is the industry’s experts and their suggestions to tighten/change controls suggested by PHMSA will be hard to ignore.

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