New warnings for crude oil rail transport

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Hazardous materials teams and fire departments across Harris County are paying close attention to recent train derailments involving a type of crude that is potentially more flammable than other types of oil.

"It's not like the typical crude that you would think of," said Harris County Fire Marshal Assistant Chief Bob Royall.

Royall, who is also the chairman of the Hazardous Materials Committee for the International Association of Fire Chiefs, says some of the recent derailments and explosions near towns in Canada, North Dakota and Alabama involved oil known as Bakken crude.

"Certainly we are very concerned and we watch very closely," said Royall.

Royall said Bakken crude is a lighter crude that comes from the northern U.S. and can ignite at lower temperatures than other types of heavier crude.

"So we want to make sure our HazMat team is aware because some of that crude is coming into this area," said Royall.

Following these recent derailments and explosions the federal government issued a new warning, urgings companies to better classify the type of crude being moved by rail.

"It is imperative that offerors properly classify and describe hazardous materials being offered for transportation," the Department of Transportation warning read. "In addition, understanding any unique hazards of the materials will enable offerors, carriers, first responders, as well as (Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) and (Federal Railroad Administration) to identify any appropriate mitigating measures that need to be taken to ensure the continued safe transportation of these materials."

Royall said he made sure this warning was sent to all 54 fire departments in our area.

"They need to be aware of the chemical and physical properties of that so they can make sure that we do the right kind of air monitoring and then do the right kind of hazard and risk assessment," said Royall.

The federal government is also in the midst of creating new regulations regarding the integrity of rail cars that carry crude. The government is currently looking at ways to make the rail cars carrying crude tougher, stronger and better able to withstand a derailment.

Royall said this is a critical step since our country's oil boom is causing more and more crude to be shipped by rail

"The supply is outrunning the ability for us to run it by pipeline," said Royall. "We are seeing an uptick in crude."

Royall said the lack of pipeline capacity to move crude across the country is why more and more companies are now looking to rail as a long term transportation solution.

Royall said this why HazMat teams and fire departments across our area are constantly training and adapting to new warnings so they can better deal with the possibility of a train derailment involving flammable crude, as well as other chemicals.

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