Recent train derailments and ensuing oil spills are pressuring state and federal agencies to implement more stringent regulations for oil spill response planning.
Regulatory action has in fact been in progress for some time. But while more complex requirements will ultimately be proposed, uncertainty remains regarding specifics or a timeline for final approval and implementation. By being aware of the current situation, railroads can be better prepared for compliance when necessary.
Although the Federal Railroad Administration has historically been the prime regulatory agency overseeing the railroad industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has regulatory authority over the transportation of oil by rail.
Last year, after several high profile derailments, PHMSA took the first step toward regulatory change by issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM – 79 FR 45079) to seek comment on nine specific areas where current regulations could be improved or enhanced to protect public and environmental safety. While the comment period has long ended, PHMSA has not given any indication when a formal rulemaking will be made or when a final rule will be enacted.
Based on comments submitted to PHMSA, railroads can expect to be required to develop much more complex Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP) for all Class 3 liquids, not just liquid petroleum oil.
A final rule is likely to include the following requirements:
States Taking Action
Since PHMSA has not developed a schedule for publishing or implementing the proposed OSRP regulations, several states including Minnesota, New York, and Washington have proposed their own rules to address the safe transport of crude oil within their boundaries. These state rules are not coordinated to be consistent (and in some cases are stricter than the proposed Federal requirements). As a result, OSRP requirements could change when a train crosses a state border, which would increase regulatory compliance costs and may even cause operational delays.
Be Prepared Now
While uncertainty remains, change is coming. Regulations will no doubt become more stringent. Compliance will be more complex, time consuming and costly. Additional time and money will be needed year over year to maintain the required plans and spill response readiness. Training programs will be necessary. But preparing now will ensure regulatory and operational success when the rules are final. Assessing current plans and preparedness is a key first step. Independent experts can help identify areas for improvement or enhancement to reduce potential liabilities.