Regulators Face Growing Pressure After Oil-by-Rail Accidents

A growing circle of lawmakers is putting pressure on the Obama administration to boost the safety of railway shipments of crude oil following a string of accidents.

The chairmen of two Senate committees wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday about "alarming" accidents that demand "increased vigilance."

"We urge you to work together to quickly resolve issues with the transportation of crude oil in order to protect our communities, and prevent any further disasters," states the letter from Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The letter cites the latest accident — a derailment and fire this week in New Brunswick, Canada — as well as last week's inferno in North Dakota, and the derailment and explosions that claimed 47 lives in Quebec in July.

Elsewhere, North Dakota's senators met Thursday with Foxx and Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Lawmakers are pressing for steps including completion of a Transportation Department regulation that would set new requirements for rail-tanker safety.

"The Secretary informed the Senators that he is calling the rail CEOs and the head of the American Petroleum Institute to ask that they work with [Federal Railroad Administration] and PHMSA to identify what they're doing to promote safety when transporting crude oil, especially in the Bakken region, and to see what they can do to work alongside the Department to maintain our safety record even as crude oil production in the Bakken region has increased," the department said in a summary of the meeting.

Foxx is setting up a meeting with industry officials, and he plans to announce other steps in coming weeks, according to the department meeting summary that also noted ongoing work on the rail-tanker regulation.

Use of railways to move crude oil is increasing alongside the U.S. drilling boom.