Saturday, July 3, 2021

LNG by Rail and the Unified Agenda

While the Trump Administration published a final rule from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Administration (PHMSA) authorizing the shipment of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail last July, it was obvious that the incoming Biden Administration was opposed to such activity. In the first day of the Administration, President Biden published a list of agency actions requiring review by the incoming administration; one of three actions listed for DOT was the LNG by rail rulemaking.

With the publication of the Spring 2021 Unified Agenda, we have chance to see how the new Administration intends to deal with the LNG by rail situation.

There are two separate rulemakings listed in the Unified Agenda from PHMSA for LNG by rail:

Hazardous Materials: Improving the Safety of Transporting Liquefied Natural Gas

Hazardous Materials: Suspension of HMR Amendments Authorizing Transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail, and

Improving Safety

The abstract for the first rulemaking states:

This rulemaking would amend the Hazardous Materials Regulations governing transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in rail tank cars. This rulemaking action would incorporate the results of ongoing research efforts and collaboration with other Department of Transportation Operating Administrations and external technical experts; respond to a mandate in Executive Order 13990 for PHMSA to review recent actions that could be obstacles to Administration policies promoting public health and safety, the environment, climate change mitigation; and provide an opportunity for stakeholders to contribute their perspectives on rail transportation of LNG.

DOT took the first public step in the review process by including the LNG by rail final rule in the Regulatory Review published by DOT in May. In the preamble, DOT specifically mentions the Biden mandate to review the LNG by Rail rule. The public comment period for that regulatory review ended on June 4th; there were no public comments offered on the LNG by rail question. A National Academy of Science study on the safety of LNG by rail is ongoing (see below).

According to the Agenda entry for this rulemaking, DOT expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in April of next year.

Suspending the Rule

The abstract for the second rulemaking states:

“PHMSA proposes to amend the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) to suspend authorization of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transportation by rail pending completion of the companion rulemaking under RIN 2137-AF54 [the rulemaking described above].”

According to the Agenda entry for this rulemaking, DOT expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) next month.

Ongoing Safety Study

Last year PHMSA reached an agreement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to convene a committee of independent experts to study the safe transportation of LNG by rail tank car. A pre-publication version of the Phase I study report has been published.

Phase II of the study began with a kick-off meeting last month.

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