Safety of Crude Oil by Rail

In the last several years, rail has come to play an important role in the transportation of growing U.S. crude oil production. Over the last seven months, a number of serious accidents have resulted in intense review of the safety of shipping large quantities of oil by rail. The focus has been on classification of the oil, the integrity of tank cars, and rail operations. Regulatory processes have been initiated to attempt to deal with these issues in a timely manner. This analysis provides facts that illuminate the players, concerns, current status of regulatory action, as well as the potential issues going forward.

Further regulation of crude by rail is a near certainty, but the ultimate scope and pace remains unclear. Whether regulatory action actually slows down what has become a burgeoning transportation option for crude oil producers and refiners is an open question. It is increasingly unlikely that regulatory action—unless truly drastic—will stop shipment of crude by rail. However, moving forward, regulatory action such as phasing out older tank cars, rerouting trains, or imposing stringent requirements for testing, could impact the economics of crude by rail.

David Pumphrey
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Energy Security and Climate Change Program
Lisa Hyland
Associate Director for Energy Education and Public Programming, Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Michelle Melton