Lowey Announces Measure to Immediately Ban Shipment of High-Volatility Crude Oil via Rail

May 6, 2015
Press Release

Legislation would also require federal agencies to establish a national standard for the maximum volatility of crude oil shipped by rail

One week after new tank car safety rules released, crude oil train derails in North Dakota, forcing town to evacuate

Lowey says rules not enough, introduces bill to stop rail transport of highly volatile crude

WEST NYACK, NY – Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (Westchester/Rockland), Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, today was joined by local elected officials, law enforcement, and environmental leaders to announce new legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would immediately ban interstate shipment of high-volatility crude oil via rail, and direct federal agencies to set a national standard for crude volatility when shipped on the nation’s rail networks.

“No one should have to live with dangerously explosive materials rumbling through their back yards,” said Lowey. “Progress is being made on the safe transport of crude oil, but we need to act faster to guarantee the security of Americans – including my constituents in Rockland County – who live near America’s extensive railways. My proposal would immediately ban interstate shipment of the most volatile forms of crude oil so that we can prevent the next tragic crude oil event.”

Lowey’s legislation would immediately prohibit the interstate rail shipment of crude oil with an average Reid Vapor Pressure volatility level greater than 8.5 pounds per square inch (psi). Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) is a common measurement of how quickly a liquid fuel evaporates and emits gasses, and a higher number means a more combustible liquid fuel. Bakken crude has an RVP of 8.56 psi or higher, compared to the lower volatilities of Eagle Ford Shale (8 psi), Brent (6.17 psi), and Basrah Light (4.8 psi), among other oil varieties.

Upwards of 80 rail tank cars carry the highly-volatile form of crude oil through Rockland County each day, endangering homes, schools, and businesses near the tracks.

Lowey’s bill would permit rail shipments of Bakken crude that has been treated to make it less volatile and would also direct the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in consultation with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to establish a national standard for the maximum volatility of crude to be shipped by rail. Only crude oil below that standard could be shipped.

"CSX trains with 100 tanker cars loaded with highly volatile Bakken crude oil pass within 100 feet of Lake DeForest, Rockland's sole reservoir, threatening our water supply," said Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell. "I thank Congresswoman Lowey for introducing this federal legislation that would make crude oil less volatile before being put into freight rail tank cars. Crude oil that is transported by pipeline is stabilized to reduce volatility, but that process is not currently required for rail transport--and that is an unacceptable hazard."

“We applaud Congresswoman Lowey for taking a bold stand on this critical issue and call on the rest of our congressional delegation to support her on this important bill,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “The National Transportation Safety Board says that the accidents involving crude oil shipments are going to continue at a rate of five to 15 derailments a year, with potentially fatal consequences.  We must do everything we can to prevent such disasters and Congresswoman Lowey’s bill would be a big step in the right direction.”

“The dramatic increase in the volume of crude oil being transported down the Hudson River makes our communities and natural resources far more vulnerable to serious accidents. A crude oil spill into the Hudson River would be catastrophic for the public health and environment of our region,” said Scenic Hudson Environmental Advocacy Attorney Hayley Carlock. “The rule announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation last week fails to protect our communities and the Hudson River. We must get deficient tank cars off the tracks as quickly as possible.” 

Lowey has been taking action to prevent the next crude oil rail accident. She is an original co-sponsor of theCrude-by-Rail Safety Act that would authorize $40 million for first responder training programs, establish grants for local communities to update emergency response plans, and improve emergency notification procedures.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently announced recommendations after Lowey sent letters to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Foxx and President Obama urging stronger regulations for crude oil transport.  Lowey also passed provisions encouraging more expeditious implementation of stricter rules, and her actions today follow DOT’s recent issuance of a final rule for stronger crude oil transport regulations.

To improve rail safety locally, Lowey has:

  • Secured funding for the construction of the overpass at the dangerous railroad crossing at Short Clove Road in Haverstraw,
  • Obtained federal funds for Quiet Zones in Rockland County, and
  • Fought for increased investments in the nation's crumbling infrastructure, including better maintenance and upkeep of rail networks.