Transport Minister Lisa Raitt is expected to host her U.S. counterpart in Ottawa next week to discuss rail safety following a series of explosive oil-train accidents, including last year's disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que.
Next week's talks between Ms. Raitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx are expected to focus on the safe transport of crude oil by rail, a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Transportation said. The meeting comes as regulators in both countries grapple with how to regulate the movement of large quantities of sometimes volatile crude oil through communities across North America.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Raitt said Thursday that the minister "would expect that rail safety would be reviewed and discussed." A source familiar with the meeting plan said the discussion would include specifications for tank cars.
On July 5, 2013, a train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and levelling the downtown core. Since the crash, other oil trains have derailed in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia, causing explosions and, in some cases, forcing evacuations of nearby communities.
All those trains were carrying crude from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and produces oil now widely believed to be more volatile than the conventional variety. Last month, regulators in North Dakota said they would require oil-well operators in the Bakken to strip volatile gases from their crude if it exceeds a proposed new limit on vapour pressure.
The fiery accidents have galvanized rail-safety advocates, who say officials ignored the risks as railway shipments of crude oil increased dramatically. As oil production in North Dakota boomed during recent years, a shortage of pipelines led the industry to turn to the railways.
An investigation by the Transportation Safety Board found that a complex series of problems contributed to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, including a lack of sufficient hand brakes, weak safety practices by the railway and a failure of federal oversight.
Ottawa has brought in a number of new rail regulations since the accident, ranging from tougher hand-brake rules to a requirement for companies to have detailed emergency response plans in place in case an accident occurs. Following the safety board's final report this fall, the federal government also promised to hire more inspectors and review short-line railways' training plans.
One of the most difficult changes will be a shift to tougher standards for the tank cars used to haul crude oil. The rail cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic crash were older-model DOT-111 cars, which have been criticized for being prone to puncture during an accident. While both Ottawa and Washington say they expect the cars to be phased out for moving crude oil, the U.S. has proposed a longer phase-out period.
Regulators in the U.S. have also introduced new requirements to address railway routes used by trains hauling dangerous goods, among other safety concerns. But neither Canada nor the U.S. has issued guidelines requiring producers to strip gases from volatile crude.