February 28, 2015

Governor Tom Wolf seeks the president's help to improve oil train safety

Gov. Wolf appeals to Obama for oil train safety

Trains Safety
02.14.15_trains Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

A CSX train moves through the center of Sutersville, Pa.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has called on President Barack Obama to take steps that will reduce risks and increase safety in the transport of crude oil by rail, NPR's StateImpact reports

In a letter to the president, Wolf stressed that while the effects of the shale boom have been dramatic for Pennsylvania's economy, recent derailments of trains shipping crude oil point to an urgent need for better standards at the national level, where interstate rail traffic can be regulated. 

I am writing to express concern and respectfully ask for your help to improve the transportation of crude oil in Pennsylvania. Each week, roughly sixty to seventy trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region travel through the Commonwealth destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery.  Pennsylvania sees some of the largest volume of Bakken crude oil transportation by rail in the United States.

Wolf goes on to cite the dangers of this volume of traffic, referencing the derailment and explosion of a train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed forty-seven people and ravaged the town. Recent incidents in the United States in Virginia and West Virginia have brought home the importance of taking action. 

CSX and Norfolk Southern, Pennsylvania's top two transporters of oil, could sending up to 42 trains through Philadelphia each week, based on StateImpact calculations. Wolf has already met with Norfolk Southern to discuss train derailments and plans to do the same with CSX. He will also have the state fire commissioner study how to extinguish an oil fire. 

Specifically, Wolf's letter to Obama highlights four key areas in which national policy can prevent potential disasters and establish safety standards that allow the industry to continue to thrive. 

Those areas mentioned include reducing volatility of crude oil by assessing optimal pressure and other relevant conditions; re-evaluating speed limits and shipment volumes for trains; enhanced and expanded rail safety inspections; and tougher standards for braking systems and tank cars. 

As the StateImpact report notes, Wolf's concern echoes a report released this week by the federal Department of Transportation predicting that up to 15 derailments of trains carrying crude oil and ethanol could occur each year. 

Read the full story here