Ottawa should require detailed emergency response plans when as little as one tank car of highly volatile oil is shipped by rail, according to a report issued in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic derailment.
The report, details of which were published last week in The Globe and Mail, also calls for more substantial funding for the centre that co-ordinates disaster responses.
Municipalities, the rail industry, the oil sector, fire chiefs and other experts formed groups that produced three reports, which were submitted to government on Jan. 31 but only made public late Friday afternoon.
"Transport Canada is now reviewing these recommendations on an urgent basis," Transport Minister Lisa Raitt's office said in a statement.
One report calls for Emergency Response Assistance Plans, or ERAPs, to be mandatory for more combustible types of oil while calling on Transport Canada to identify "communities at risk." Ms. Raitt has told The Globe ERAPs would be mandatory for crude shipments by the mid-2014.
The report said "lack of data [is] a serious constraint in providing detailed risk analysis" of oil shipments in the rail sector, and urged government to collect more data about the volume and types of oil being shipped.
Specialized safety protocols have long been required for many other hazardous materials, but crude oil was not included because it was not believed to be explosive. After the July accident in Lac-Mégantic, Que., a Globe investigation documented how crude from the Bakken region, which covers North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, can be significantly more volatile than traditional crude.
The working group's report also calls for an inventory, by geography, of all firefighting equipment available for fires caused by flammable liquids, while the authors are "strongly urging" Ottawa to invest in a more "robust" Canadian Transport Emergency Centre, an agency overseeing dangerous goods shipment.
Another report focused on rail cars, saying "regulators, industry, car builders and shippers can go further" in improving safety standards. It calls on Ottawa to consider "retirement, reassignment or retrofit" of tanker cars that don't meet modern safety standards.
A third report calls on Ottawa to do more work to test what kind of oil is being shipped, and for further study of how corrosive certain types of oil are.