Are US Regulators Trying to Cover Up Influence Of Lobbyists On New Oil-By-Rail Regulations?

It’s no secret that the oil and rail industries lobbied the Obama Administration heavily during the creation of new oil-by-rail regulations released this past May, with lobbyists reportedly not even taking a break the day after a major oil train accident.

But just how much influence did lobbyists actually have in the drafting of the regulations?

Environmentalists who criticize the new rules as far too weak to stop business-as-usual — which has already resulted in five oil train explosions so far this year — are endeavoring to find out by submitting Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence between lobbyists and five federal agencies within the US Department of Transportation that worked on the oil train safety rules.

So far, they say, they’ve been stonewalled by the Obama Administration.

Environmental Group Launches Lawsuit Against Federal Government Over Pipeline Safety Planning

One of the country's largest environmental groups has accused the federal government of failing to follow pipeline safety planning laws, alleging that for more than two decades the Department of Transportation (DOT) has illegally allowed companies to operate oil pipelines that cross waterways without adequate preparation for spills and other disasters.

The National Wildlife Federation, which filed a notice of its intent to sue on Tuesday, accused the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), part of the DOT, of failing to properly enforce the Oil Pollution Act, enacted by Congress in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill.

“Due to the agency’s decades-long oversight failures, every U.S. oil pipeline that intersects a navigable water is operating illegally,” the NWF wrote in a statement announcing the filing.

Federal Regulators Restrict Use Of Second Pipeline As Investigation Into California Oil Spill Continues

Federal regulators have ordered Plains All American to restrict usage of a second pipeline in California as preliminary results revealed extensive external corrosion issues with the pipeline that spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil along the California coast at Refugio State Beach, including at least 21,000 gallons that poured into the Pacific Ocean.

Pipeline Company Responsible For Santa Barbara Oil Spill Had Horrendous Safety Record, But So Does The Entire Industry

Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for the 9-mile long oil slick polluting the California coast near Santa Barbara, is no stranger to oil spills.

The LA Times examined data kept by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and discovered that Plains has been cited for 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006, and incidents involving the company’s pipes have caused more than $23 million in property damage while spilling more than 688,000 gallons of “hazardous liquid.”

TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline Network Under Investigation by Federal Regulators

A month after revealing that TransCanada is under a compliance review for the Keystone 1 Pipeline, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) disclosed it is also investigating the operations of Keystone XL's southern route, renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline when the project was split in half.

Exclusive: TransCanada Keystone 1 Pipeline Suffered Major Corrosion Only Two Years In Operation, 95% Worn In One Spot

Julie Dermansky

Documents obtained by DeSmogBlog reveal an alarming rate of corrosion to parts of TransCanada's Keystone 1 pipeline. A mandatory inspection test revealed a section of the pipeline's wall had corroded 95%, leaving it paper-thin in one area (one-third the thickness of a dime) and dangerously thin in three other places, leading TransCanada to immediately shut it down.

“Pipeline Nation” Short Documentary Investigates Lack Of Oversight Of “America’s Broken Industry”

In a new short documentary called “Pipeline Nation: America’s Broken Industry,” Vice News travels to Glendive, Montana, where a pipeline ruptured on January 17 of this year, spilling 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminating the town’s drinking supply.

This was the second oil spill in the area in the past four years. An Exxon pipeline spilled over 60,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana in 2011.

The spill near Glendive involved Bakken crude, which is lighter and more volatile than heavy crude and evaporates more quickly, making it difficult to clean up.

“Our recovery of oil out of the water, it’s just… we’re not really getting much,” Paul Peronard, On-Site Coordinator for the EPA, tells Vice’s Nilo Tabrizy in the film. “Three-hundred-something barrels out of the pipeline in this immediate area, less than a couple barrels actually out of the water. So pretty much what is in the water is there and gone. And we aren’t going to recover it.”

“We never — and I’ll be clear about that — we never recover all the oil. Somebody who tells you that is telling you stories. In good conditions, you get half of the oil that hits the water.”

Heather Zichal, Former Top Obama Energy Aide, Named Fellow at Industry-Funded Atlantic Council

Heather Zichal, former top climate and energy aide to President Barack Obama his top aide in crafting his 2008 presidential campaign energy platform, has joined the industry-funded Atlantic Council as a fellow at its Global Energy Center.

Bomb Trains Keep Rolling While Congressional Committee Bickers About Bakken Crude

Congressman Paul Broun

When DeSmogBlog reported last week that no actual petroleum scientists would be testifying at the congressional science committee’s hearing on the characteristics of Bakken crude oil, we knew the hearing was unlikely to make any substantial progress toward improving the safety of transporting this volatile oil on trains through American communities.    

Indeed, we expected the hearing would be an exercise in avoiding getting the facts about Bakken crude to further delay or avoid regulations that would require the oil to be stabilized. But what actually transpired surprised even us and bordered on the absurd.

While the hearing was conducted under the banner of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it was co-chaired by Subcommittee on Energy chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Subcommittee on Oversight chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.)

During his opening remarks, Congressman Broun ripped into the Obama administration for denying his attempts to get “experts in the subject matter” as witnesses.

While I look forward to hearing from both panels today, I must say I am disappointed — though not surprised — at this Administration’s continued unwillingness to work with the Congress. Chairman Lummis and I invited representatives from the agencies who are experts in the subject matter because we are interested in the science behind Bakken crude. Instead, both agencies appearing before the Committee today declined to provide the witnesses we requested, sending us in their place witnesses more knowledgeable on the politics behind Bakken crude. As I said, I am not surprised, just disappointed.

Rail CEOs to Investors: "Bomb Trains" Safe At Almost Any Speed

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) recently said it would proceed with plans to increase speeds for oil-by-rail unit trains in Devil’s Lake, N.D. to 60 MPH from 30 MPH, despite opposition from local officials

BNSF’s announcement came merely a week after the Obama Administration announced its proposed regulations for trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.  

The rail industry’s position on speed limits for “bomb trains” is simple: they continuously claim velocity has nothing to do with oil-by-rail accidents or safety.

For example, Big Rail — as revealed by DeSmogBlog — lobbied against all proposed oil train speed reductions in its dozen or so private meetings at the Obama White House before the unveiling of the proposed oil-by-rail regulations. 

Recent statements by rail industry CEOs during investor calls put the heads of many companies on record opposing oil-by-rail speed limits for the first time.


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