PHMSA Issues Determination and Notice Regarding Vapor Pressure of Crude Oil Transported by Rail

On May 11, PHMSA issued (1) an administrative determination that federal law preempts Washington State’s vapor pressure limit for crude oil in rail tank cars and (2) a notice withdrawing the agency’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding vapor pressure for crude oil transported by rail.

PHMSA provided three arguments in support of its preemption determination.  First, it concluded that Washington State’s vapor pressure requirement effectively creates a new class of crude oil subject to special requirements that are not substantively the same as the federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).  Similarly, PHMSA found that the State’s vapor pressure law imposes requirements on the handling of a hazardous material that are not substantively the same as the requirements of the HMR.  Finally, PHMSA determined that the Washington State vapor pressure requirement is an obstacle to accomplishing and carrying out the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.  Under PHMSA’s regulations, Washington State has until May 31, 2020, to file a petition for reconsideration.

On the same day, PHMSA announced that it is withdrawing its January 18, 2017, ANPRM concerning vapor pressure for crude oil transported by rail.  PHMSA stated that its decision was based on comments received on the ANPRM, as well as a study by the Sandia National Laboratories which found that the vapor pressure of crude oil is not a significant factor in the severity of pool fire or fireball scenarios.  PHMSA stated that in withdrawing the ANPRM, PHMSA is providing notice of its determination that the establishment of vapor pressure limits would not improve the safety of rail transportation of crude oil, and that therefore, PHMSA is no longer considering vapor pressure limits for the transportation of crude oil, or any other unrefined petroleum-based products or other Class 3 flammable liquids, transported by rail or any other mode. 

 

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