U.S. lawmakers fault regulators for lax oil train controls

Tue Jun 3, 2014 5:25pm EDT
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By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators reacted timidly to a spate of oil train mishaps and have been too reluctant to manage dangerous cargo on the tracks, several lawmakers said on Tuesday, faulting officials for lax oversight of a fast-growing industry.

Officials have been under pressure to improve safety since an oil train shipment derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, in July killing 47 people. Several other doomed oil trains originated from the same energy patch in North Dakota's Bakken region, including a shipment that jumped the tracks and burst into flames in Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 30.

But officials are moving too slowly to catch violators and improve safety, several senators said.

"This needs to be a higher priority," said Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota after a meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss rail safety concerns.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) sent the White House a plan to improve oil train safety in April, but that review could last many months.

"They need to put this on the front burner and move faster than they ever thought possible," said Klobuchar, a Democrat whose home state is a pass-through point for a large share of Bakken fuel.

Oil production in North Dakota is hovering around 1 million barrels per day with about 70 percent of that fuel reaching coastal refineries on the tracks.

The Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) warned in January that Bakken fuel could be more volatile than other crude oil, but the agency has been slow to detail its concerns.   Continued...