The U.S. Department of Transportation issued emergency rules Tuesday that require tests on crude oil shipped by rail, saying rail transport of crude is now “an imminent hazard to public health and safety and the environment.”

“The Transportation Department said the order is aimed at Bakken crude but will cover shipments from anywhere,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Bakken shale oil is light and more volatile than most other North American crudes.

Last July, a derailment and explosion of a train carrying Bakken crude killed 47 poeple in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

On Friday, federal regulators and the rail industry said they had adopted new voluntary measures to make transporting crude safer. The measures included lower speed limits in urban areas, re-routing trains around population centers, and better access to emergency braking systems by crews.

A series of derailments in the U.S. following the Quebec disaster highlighted the growing dangers of the rail shipments.

Several companies have also said they would voluntarily upgrade their tanker fleets to improve safety.

The DOT’s emergency testing order has immediate effect. It requires testing of each batch of crude for flash point, the percentage of flammable gases disolved in the oil, and the vapor pressure created when the crude emits gases inside railcars.

“Previously, federal rules didn’t require that crude be tested as extensively; indeed it only required that crude be properly classified and didn’t spell out in any detail how often to test the crude,” the Wall Street Journal said.

Non-compliance will trigger fines of $175,000 per incident per day.

“The crude-by-rail industry was almost nonexistent five years ago, but it has boomed along with petroleum output. In 2008, a train of 100 tankers full of crude departed a terminal in North Dakota once every four days, according to rail-industry statistics. By 2013, a unit train was departing every 21/2 hours,” the Wall Street Journal said.

The DOT’s emergency order will also end the use of  3% of the total crude fleet, or about 1,100 tank cars. The AAR-211s are considered less suitable for highly flammable materials.


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