Maine's Governor, Legislators Push for Review of Rail Regulations After Lac-Megantic Accident

Maine's U.S. Representatives, Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, have asked for a federal investigation on the state's rail infrastructure transporting oil and gas in the aftermath of the tragic derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec where 60 people are presumed dead or missing. The accident occurred only 22 miles from Maine's border and the cargo of 50,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil was bound for refineries in New Brunswick. The request comes after Governor Paul LePage issued an executive order directing the state DOT to review the sufficiency of its existing freight rail regulations.

Maine has increasingly become a key cog in the growing boom of rail shipments of crude oil out of the Canadian oil sands and the Bakken region of North Dakota because of a dearth in existing oil pipeline infrastructure. The expanded use of hydraulic fracturing and limitations of pipeline capacity were creating gluts of crude oil in the US mid-continent and rail has increasingly stepped in to provide service for shippers and producers that needed to move product that was trading at a steep price differential from global prices, also known as Brent. According to the AP, the amount of oil moved on Canadian railways has increased from 500 carloads in 2009 to over 140,000 in 2013 - an increase of 28,000%. Domestic rail shipments have also seen a dramatic jump over a similar time frame. In 2008, US freight rail moved 9,500 carloads of crude oil and in 2012 they moved 233,811 according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Last year, crude oil shipments of oil on Maine's freight rails increased from 2,000 barrels per day to 30,000 barrels per day with many cargos headed to east coast Canadian refineries.

Under the Governor's executive order, Maine DOT will have 90 days to examine safety issues and report on its findings; it will also request a report on the results of the inspection of the track, equipment and operations surrounding the causes of the Quebec crash as more information becomes available. State legislators have also been very involved as well to determine if there are additional new safety protocols that need to be put in place, recognizing the limitations that may be undertaken on interstate commerce aspects of freight rail transportation. Rep. Seth Barry, the Democratic House Leader, said "We should not assume that the way that happened (the factors of the Lac-Megantic accident) is the only thing that could go wrong. We need to look at all of our systems because of the unprecedented amount that is now crossing our state and being delivered from the Bakken field and Alberta to the global market."

Maine's congressional delegation has urged the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct “a full accounting of the vulnerabilities of the existing infrastructure” in to evaluate potential safety threats that may still exist for the state. To read the entire request and letter to federal safety officials, please click here.

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