The U.S. Department of Transportation must expand the Obama administration's safety focus from distracted and drunk driving, and unsafe bus operators to aviation and the transport of energy supplies in the wake of last month's fiery accident in North Dakota when a BNSF Railway unit train hauling crude oil collided with a car that had derailed on the opposite track, Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the North Dakota accident
, which occurred near Casselton. According to the report, both the grain train and the oil train were traveling well below the maximum speed limit for that area at the time of the accident. Damage was estimated at $6.1 million.
"America is now the world’s leading energy producer, and we should be the world leader in safely transporting it, too. We have to assure the American people that natural gas can be liquefied and moved without incident … and that Bakken oil can move safely no matter how it’s transported," Foxx said in a speech to the Transportation Research Board in Washington, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Foxx, who took office in September, said he summoned petroleum and rail industry officials to DOT headquarters this week to discuss how to safely transport crude oil by rail.
The Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is one of the largest oil shale fields in the nation and is being rapidly developed through the use of new technologies that enable oil to be pulled from the rock formation. Railroads are the primary way of getting the oil to refineries because little pipeline infrastructure has been built in that remote area.
The DOT recently warned that Bakken crude may be more flammable than other crude oil.
On Monday, Sen. John Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, sent a letter to Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz demanding an investigation and review of current safety practices and regulations governing crude oil transport by rail.
They also called for better coordination among regulatory bodies, such as the DOT's Federal Railroad Administration, and greater vigilance by industry in properly classifying materials loaded in tank cars.
"There is growing concern that some oil shipments are improperly classified under federal hazardous material standards, leaving rail companies and emergency responders with incomplete information about what is being shipped through communities," the senators said.