Regulators seek to suspend Trump rule on rail natural gas

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A CSX Transportation locomotive pulls a train of tank cars across a bridge over the Hudson River along Bear Mountain State Park near Fort Montgomery, NY (AP file photo / Julie Jacobson)

OMAHA, Neb. – Federal regulators have proposed to suspend a Trump administration rule that would have allowed railways to transport liquefied natural gas while taking a closer look at potential safety risks.

The rule, which was supported by both the natural gas and rail freight industries, had previously been suspended because several environmental groups and 14 states filed lawsuits challenging it.

The Federal Pipeline Safety Administration and Hazardous Materials said uncertainty over the rule also prevented companies from investing in the specialized tank cars that were needed, so the railways did not actually processed no shipment of the flammable and odorless liquid known as LNG since the rule. was released last summer.

The rule would have required improvements – including a thicker outer steel tank with greater puncture resistance – to the approved tank car design that has for decades been approved for shipments of other cryogenic materials. flammable, such as liquid ethylene and liquid ethane.

But in their lawsuit, environmental groups argued that these new wagons, which have yet to be built, have yet to be tested and may not withstand high-speed impacts, increasing the threat of high-speed impacts. ‘an explosive train derailment along railroad tracks that pass directly through the core of most cities.

“We don’t believe LNG by rail should have been licensed in the first place, so we look forward to the authorization being suspended,” said Bradley Marshall, senior counsel at Earthjustice, who filed the complaint on behalf of from environmental groups.

A spokesman for California Attorney General Rob Bonta also praised the Biden administration’s decision to suspend the rule. Bonta’s office said it would continue to challenge the rule launched by its predecessor because it believes “this rule is illegal” and that regulators have not properly assessed all environmental risks.

Besides California, other states that challenged the rule included Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Washington, DC was also part of the trial.

The lawsuits have all been suspended while federal regulators revise the rule, which could take until the summer of 2024.

Before this rule was published last summer, federal hazardous materials regulations allowed LNG shipments by truck, but not by rail, except with a special permit.

The decision to drop the rule allowing LNG shipments by rail comes as natural gas prices and exports increase in the United States. And ongoing legal and regulatory battles have slowed the development of pipelines that would help get the country’s premier gas production to market.

Long-term growth in LNG exports has continued to break records, according to the latest federal figures. U.S. LNG exports averaged 9.6 billion cubic feet per day in the first six months of this year, as the economy continued to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads trade group defended the rail industry’s track record of safety and said the railways would be able to handle LNG shipments if given the opportunity. was given.

“Railways remain the safest way to move hazardous materials over land with 99.99% of all hazardous materials shipments arriving at their destinations without incident,” said Jessica Kahanek of the rail group. “The rail industry remains convinced that ongoing DOT research will confirm that with the right precautions, rail is a responsible transportation solution for moving LNG if their customers demand it. “

One of the industrial proponents of the idea of ​​shipping LNG by rail included a project proposed by a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy that wanted to use rail to transport LNG from the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields in the north. from Pennsylvania to a storage building. terminal of a former explosives factory in New Jersey along the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

The Trump administration issued a special permit for this project in 2019. If built, most of this LNG would have to be exported to overseas markets for power generation.


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