North Dakota Senator to Meet With Top Regulator on Oil-by-Rail Safety

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is pressing senior Obama administration officials to boost rail-safety standards following the recent explosion of tankers carrying crude oil produced in his state's booming Bakken region.

He's among multiple lawmakers who are increasingly urging regulators to boost crude-by-rail safety in the wake of recent accidents.

Hoeven will meet Thursday with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Cynthia L. Quarterman, head of the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an aide said.

Hoeven said the oil industry has been transitioning to use of double-hulled cars but that federal standards need updating to speed up manufacturers' production of the safer cars.

"One-third of the fleet has already transitioned, but [manufacturers] still don't know what the requirements are from PHMSA. PHMSA has got to get those requirements out there so we can make that transition as aggressively as possible," Hoeven told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.

"Industry ... needs certainty. Get the new requirements out there so they know what they are. That's going to help us transition the fleet faster," said Hoeven, who also spoke recently with the head of the National Transportation Safety Board about rail safety.

PHMSA is working on a regulation to update standards for rail cars carrying hazardous materials.

The agency also warned a week ago that oil from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.

Hoeven's upcoming meeting comes after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in his state on Dec. 30. It was the latest of several accidents in recent months involving crude oil shipped by rail, including a disaster last July in Quebec that took 47 lives.

Hoeven's meeting with PHMSA is part of broader inquiries by North Dakota lawmakers following the recent accident.

He met Saturday with the executive chairman of BNSF Railway Co., the company involved in the Dec. 30 accident near Casselton, North Dakota.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., met with the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday and also met Sunday with BNSF Executive Chairman Matthew Rose, her office said.

"We talked about the need to increase pressure on federal regulators to issue new standards for transporting oil so that it's done safely and responsibly," Heitkamp said in a statement.