DOT advances proposal to allow movement of liquefied natural gas in tank cars

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TankCars_ElmwoodPark_Lassen
Tank cars placarded for alcohol bring up the rear of a Canadian Pacific train passing the Elmwood Park, Ill., Metra station. While many flammable materials may be moved by tank car, liquefied natural gas is not currently among them; a Department of Transportation proposal would change that. The tank cars shown are not the type that would be used for LNG shipments.
TRAINS: David Lassen

WASHINGTON — The federal government is moving forward with a controversial plan to allow liquified natural gas to move by rail, publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking on Friday.

The proposal by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration would allow LNG to move by rail in DOT-113 tank cars. Liquified natural gas can currently move by truck, or by rail only in a portable tank, with approval by the FRA.

A press release from the DOT on Friday noted the DOT-113 cars are designed for transportation of refrigerated liquified gases, and their use is allowed for the transportation of other flammable materials. “This design specification may be similarly suitable for the transportation of refrigerated liquid methane,” the release says.

The proposal, a response to an April 2019 executive order by President Donald Trump, drew immediate criticism from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. 

The executive order directed the Secretary of Transportation to finalize a rule within 13 months that would “treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail cars.”

In the release announcing the proposed rule, Skip Elliott, administrator of the pipeline and hazards materials administration, said, “Safety is the number one priority of PHMSA, and we understand the importance and will make it a top priority to evaluate all public comments and concerns raised throughout the rulemaking process,” said PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott. “This major rule will establish a safe, reliable, and durable mode of transportation for LNG, while substantially increasing economic benefits and our nation’s energy competitiveness in the global market.”

FRA Administrator Ron Batory said the rulemaking proposal “is consistent with our systemic approach to accident prevention, mitigation, and emergency response preparedness.”

In September, DeFazio and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) introduced legislation, the “Protecting Communites from Liquefied Natural Gas Trains Act,” which would require the FRA administrator to “conduct an evaluation of the safety, security and environmental risks of transporting liquefied natural gas by rail.” It would require physical testing of DOT-113 cars to ensure the cars are able to withstand accidents and “prevent or mitigate” the release of LNG.

On Friday, DeFazio issued a statement saying the authorization to move hazardous materials by rail “should be a careful and deliberative process, supported by science and evidence, with adequate protections in place for the communities where this stuff is travelling. It is not something to be done with the stroke of a pen. The results of his order could be catastrophic.

“The Trump administration’s plan to put a dangerous liquid in old tank cars without sufficient testing, analysis, or reviews poses major risks to the health and safety of communities across the nation. If one tank car had even one minor puncture, the deadly results could be felt for miles.”

Publication of the rule on Friday begins a 60-day period for public comment on the proposal.

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