The Trump administration is pushing to lift a ban on liquified natural gas (LNG) shipments on trains, a move that could expose communities near rail lines throughout the country to extreme safety hazards.
The Department of Transportation has proposed the rule with a May 10 deadline for it to go into effect, without any additional safety regulations and eight months before the results of a Federal Railroad Administration study of tank car safety are expected.
The new rule is also being proposed despite fierce opposition by elected officials in local communities, attorneys general from multiple states and the District of Columbia, firefighters’ organizations, railroad employee unions, safety advocates, environmentalists, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Native American Tribes, and others.
If passed, the rule could allow freight trains with 100 or more cars, each with a 30,000-gallon capacity, to haul liquified natural gas from fracking sites to seaports. The excess gas won’t go toward U.S. consumption or reserves but will be exported to other countries.
The Washington Post notes that the bill has largely slipped past the general public’s attention. Before new regulations are implemented, they are opened to comment for the general public. The window to comment on the proposed measure has already closed.
Many critics of the proposed measure warn that the 13-month time frame from proposal to enactment is far too short to conduct the appropriate safety studies and implement any new safeguards that would protect the public from potential explosions, fires, and toxic spills, all of which could be catastrophic to the communities in which they occurred.
“The risks of catastrophic LNG releases in accidents is too great not to have operational controls in place before large blocks of tank cars and unit trains proliferate,” the NTSB, the federal agency that investigates major transportation accidents, wrote in its comment to the proposed rule.
“Recent history with unit train shipments of ethanol and crude oil demonstrates how unprepared federal regulators were to address the spate of fiery flammable liquids accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2015,” the NTSB added.
Unsurprisingly, the only supporters of the bill seem to be those who would profit from it the most – the natural gas industry and the Association of American Railroads. According to the Washington Post, the railroad association stakes its safety claims on false equivalences, saying that trains have fewer accidents than trucks and pointing out that sea-going vessels have carried liquified natural gas for 60 years without incident.
Recent history is full of train derailments and collisions causing casualties and environmental destruction. One of the most notorious examples is the 2013 derailment of a fuel-laden train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that nearly destroyed an entire town and killed 47 people.