Skip to main content

DOE crude-by-rail report highlights importance of accident prevention


Brian Straessle | 202.682.8114 | straessleb@api.org


WASHINGTON, March 24, 2015 – A Department of Energy report on crude oil properties and transportation safety published today highlights the continued need for efforts to prevent more train derailments, said API Director of Midstream Robin Rorick.

“This report shows the need to focus more on preventing train derailments as part of a holistic approach to safety improvements of shipping oil by rail,” said Rorick. “The Department of Energy found no data showing correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a derailment.”

The kinetic energy created by a derailment can play a far bigger role in the size of a fire than whatever the train is hauling, according to the report. DOE’s key findings state that “the energy generated from an accident has the potential to greatly exceed the flammability impact of...crude oil property-based criteria.”

“This report raises puzzling questions about Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg’s suggestion that nothing more can be done to prevent derailments,” said Rorick. “We can and must do more to prevent derailments as part of a comprehensive approach to safety.”

The Department of Energy’s findings fit with the Federal Railroad Administration’s own report published last September, which concluded that “using vapor pressure as a metric to identify potential hazards may not prove effective when considering real world accident conditions.” The Department of Transportation stopped using vapor pressure for flammable liquid classification in 1990.

“Safety is our core value and zero incidents is our goal,” said Rorick. “The oil and natural gas industry has led in improving safety through tank car design and supports further enhancements based on good science, but prevention remains a critical piece of this equation. We will continue to work with the railroad industry and will not stop until the goal of zero incidents is achieved.”

API represents all segments of America’s oil and natural gas industry. Its more than 625 members produce, process, and distribute most of the nation’s energy. The industry also supports 9.8 million U.S. jobs and 8 percent of the U.S. economy.