Some oil-by-rail cargo should move like propane, U.S. officials say

Tue Apr 22, 2014 10:34pm GMT

By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - U.S. rail industry officials said on Tuesday that some oil-by-rail shipments from energy patches like North Dakota's Bakken region may be so volatile, that they should be handled like propane.

Rail operators and the tanker car industry have expressed that view to regulators who are trying to understand why several oil-by-rail mishaps have led to fiery explosions in recent months. Those incidents came after the disaster last July, when a 74-car runaway train carrying Bakken crude oil detonated in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Oil-by-rail cargo typically moves in standard tank cars while petroleum gasses like propane must be carried in heavier and costlier, but sturdier, pressure tank cars.

Gassy, volatile oil being moved by rail out of the Bakken traveling in standard tank cars may pose a risk, Robert Fronczak of the Association of American Railroads told a safety panel.

"Those types of commodities could be classified as a flammable gas instead of a flammable liquid which would require (a) pressure car," Fronczak, told the National Transportation Safety Board.

Rail operators have noted the gas-heavy nature of some Bakken shipments, Fronczak said, "and so we feel a pressure car is more appropriate."

Regulators have asked the rail and oil industries to offer a tank car design fit for moving fuel from North Dakota and some have proposed incorporating aspects of pressure cars such as a thicker shell.

But oil-by-rail stakeholders cannot make any final recommendations on tank car design until they have a clear understanding of the dangers of Bakken crude oil, said Bill Finn of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents car manufacturers.   Continued...

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