PHMSA Starts Rolling on New Crude Oil Volatility Standards

Posted on 1/16/2017 by Roger Marks

UPDATE 01/18/17: PHMSA's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to potentially establish vapor pressure limits for crude oil and possibly other Class 3 flammable hazardous materials appeared in the Federal Register today.  View it here. 

The US DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking input on potentially establishing vapor pressure limits for unrefined petroleum-based products (and potentially all Class 3 liquids) shipped by any mode.

The ANPRM is a response to petition from the New York State Attorney General’s office (Petition P-1669), which requests that PHMSA add a new paragraph (a)(6) to 49 CFR 174.310 that would require all crude oil transported by rail to have a Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of less than 9.0 psi.

Limiting the vapor pressure, it is thought, may reduce the risk of death or damage from fires or explosions that result from accidents involving crude oil.

View the ANPRM, Hazardous Materials: Volatility of Unrefined Petroleum Products and Class 3 Materials, here.

49 CFR Hazmat Classification for Crude Oil

Rail car carrying crude oil or class 3 flammable liquidUnder the current Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), shippers must consider all hazards when classifying hazmat for transport. [49 CFR 173.22] Crude oil and other unrefined petroleum products may fall into a number of DOT hazard classes or divisions. In addition to characteristics of a Class 3 flammable or combustible liquid, these products may exhibit hazards like:  

  • Flammable gas (Division 2.1);
  • Non-flammable, non-poisonous compressed gas (Division 2.2);
  • Gas poisonous by inhalation (Division 2.3);
  • Poisonous material (Division 6.1); or
  • Corrosives (Class 8).

This makes accurate and complete classification of crude oil and petroleum products a bigger challenge than for some other materials.  

Other Recent 49 CFR Crude Oil Rulemakings

The ANPRM regarding unrefined petroleum volatility and vapor pressure is the latest development in PHMSA’s ongoing effort to enhance the safety of crude oil shipments in North America.

In May 2015, PHMSA published a Final Rule that established new sampling and testing rules for crude oil, bolstered tank car standards, speed restrictions for certain trains, new braking standards, new routing requirements, and an aggressive schedule to retrofit outdated tank cars. In addition, the Final Rule created two new designations of trains carrying hazardous materials: High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs) and High-Hazard Flammable Unit Trains (HHUFTs).

In July 2016, PHMSA proposed a rule to expand the comprehensive oil spill response plans (OSRP) required for railroads that transport HHFTs. Final action on this proposed rule is expected in July 2017, according to the DOT’s Fall Regulatory Agenda.

Convenient Online Training for Hazmat Rail Shippers

To help rail shippers and railroads maintain compliance with changing US DOT standards for hazmat shipments, the new Hazmat Ground Shipper—Additional Rail Requirements Online Course covers the complex rules for this unique mode of transport. Designed to help offerors meet DOT’s function-specific hazmat training mandate at 49 CFR 172.704(a)(2), the course covers the requirements for shipping hazmat by tank car, freight container, and bulk or non-bulk packages.

Learn more about the course and sign up here.

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, new rules, PHMSA, Rail

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