WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - Rail operators are going to great lengths to prevent oil train derailments but the energy sector must do more to prevent accidents from becoming fiery disasters, the leading U.S. rail regulator said on Friday.
Oil train tankers have jumped the tracks in a string of mishaps in recent months that resulted in explosions and fires.
Those shipments all originated from North Dakota’s Bakken energy fields. Officials have warned that fuel from the region is particularly light and volatile.
Sarah Feinberg, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the energy industry must do more to control the volatility of its cargo.
“(We) are running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do,” she said. “There have to be other industries that have skin in the game.”
A national safety plan for oil trains, due to be finalized in May, would require trains to have toughened tankers, advanced braking and other safety improvements. Some cars involved in recent crashes were the toughened tankers, but still caught on fire.
The plan, however, would do nothing to mute the dangers of the fuel itself.
As officials try to prevent mishaps, they will also highlight the energy companies that supplied crude oil involved in accidents, Feinberg said.
Officials want to identify publicly “the owner of the product when we talk about these derailments,” she said.
While U.S. officials have warned for more than 12 months that Bakken fuel can be volatile, the verdict is mixed on whether that contributes to the intensity of accidents.
In September, the FRA determined that Bakken crude oil may be no more explosion-prone than other fuels carried by rail.
Ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, “poses a similar, if not greater, risk as (Bakken) crude oil when released from a tank car failing catastrophically and resulting in a large fireball type fire,” according to a study from the agency.
On Friday, the FRA said that about 6,000 tankers had a top valve that allowed small amounts of oil to escape. The agency said it ordered the fitting to be replaced and said it would work with industry to identify and replace defective parts more quickly.
That defect was not believed to have played a role in any mishaps, the FRA said. (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Dan Grebler)