by Steve Guntli
In response to public health and safety concerns, oil conglomerate BP has stopped using outdated train cars to transport crude oil.
During a public tour of the BP Cherry Point refinery last week, representatives revealed that earlier this month the company decided to stop hauling crude oil using older-model DOT-111 train cars, and will no longer accept crude oil that is transported to the refinery unless it meets more rigorous safety regulations.
DOT-111 cars have been used primarily to haul crude oil in from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, but public concern about train derailments has led the company to transition to newer-model train cars, like the CPC-1232.
The biggest difference between the pre-2011 tanks and the more modern tanks are the safety cages covering the top valves, said Chris Color, an engineer who volunteered as a tour guide for the event.
“The pre-2011 models have weaker steel cages, so if there were a derailment, the valves on top could snap off,” he said. “If that were to happen in one of the new tanks, the cage would absorb the impact and protect the valves.”
The newer cars also use thicker shells that are less likely to be punctured, and have additional shielding on the front and rear of the cars.
BP currently owns about 700 CPC-1232 cars. About 60 percent of the oil that comes to Cherry Point was already being transported in the newer cars.
The National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) updated its health and safety regulations in 2011 to more strictly monitor the transport of crude oil and ethanol. The NTSB is in the process of refining their regulations further, which could make the DOT-111 cars obsolete within a few years.
Crude oil from the Bakken region has been the focus of safety concerns, since the oil is highly flammable and has been involved in several high-profile derailments over the last few years. In June 2013, a 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing nearly 50 people and burning more than half of the small town to the ground.
BP officials are confident that the new train cars will reduce the risk of a tanker explosion, but some environmental groups have disagreed. Matt Krogh, campaign director for Bellingham-based environmental advocacy group Forest Ethics, recently told the Associated Press that the new train cars are “a red herring,” since the CPC-1232 cars haven’t been tested at the same speeds as the DOT-111’s, and that a CPC-1232 was involved in an explosion in Virginia last April.
To learn more about national rail and pipeline safety regulations, visit ntsb.gov.