Photo of San Bruno PGE pipeline explosion in 2010. CC-BY © Thomas Hawk / Flickr.com
by Adam Carlesco
Until 2020, transportation of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail was prohibited in the U.S. The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned it due to the inherent volatility of the practice. Obviously, moving large amounts of explosive chemicals under extreme temperatures and pressure via aging privately-owned rail lines is catastrophically risky. This is why they’re often referred to as “bomb trains.” The Trump Administration finalized a rule in 2020 allowing LNG to be transported by trains. Their idea of an acceptable limit? Hauling up to a hundred DOT-113 LNG tanker cars. This development is extremely dangerous for front-line communities as LNG is highly flammable and explosive. An accident could mean uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions — LNG fires burn hotter and faster than fires caused by oil or gasoline.
PHMSA themselves acknowledge the safety and environmental risk of LNG transport via rail under Trump’s 2020 rule. So it’s vexing that rather than repeal it, the Biden administration has proposed a rule that only temporarily suspends it. Meanwhile it will allow railways with DOT special permits to continue moving LNG. This is in effect until 2024 or until a new rule is issued, whichever comes first. If the data cannot support the 2020 rule, as PHMSA rulemaking notes, then the data cannot support a sunsetting suspension.
Bomb Trains Should Be Stopped — Not Postponed
In issuing this proposal, Biden’s DOT has fallen short of the administration’s promises to fight environmental racism and climate change.
The 2020 rule eliminated notice and comment requirements that would have otherwise accompanied every application for LNG transportation by rail. So fenceline environmental justice communities — disproportionately impacted — could remain unaware that such hazardous shipments were moving past their homes. Suspending the rule temporarily does not address the underlying shortcomings of the 2020 rule. It merely demonstrates a desire to postpone these explosive shipments while preserving harmful provisions of the rule.
Fossil gas is not clean energy and LNG rail transport is doing the atmosphere no favors. The greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, transport, and re-gasification of LNG can oftentimes be just as much as from the burning of the gas itself. When combined with the emissions from the use of LNG at its destination, plus methane leakage during export, the greenhouse potential of LNG is similar to other fossil fuels. The industry touts LNG as a greener replacement for other fossil fuels, but bomb trains’ impact blows up that assertion. Issuing a temporary suspension is not climate action or justice — a full repeal is.
Tell PHMSA To Repeal Trump’s LNG by Rail Rule
Transporting LNG by rail is inherently dangerous and threatens the safety of many fenceline communities and degrades our atmosphere. If PHMSA now believes there is sufficient evidence of harm to suspend the rule, then there was never sufficient evidence of safety to allow LNG transport via rail in the first place. If there is sufficient evidence of harm, they should have never allowed special permits — let alone continue to.
However, at this time it’s only a proposal and public outcry could change the shape of the final rule. PHMSA requests all interested members of the public provide them with comments by December 23, 2021. Now is our opportunity to influence the final rule and compel PHMSA to once more prohibit LNG transport by rail. Tell the Biden administration to issue a full repeal. We must stop the transport of LNG via rail and prohibit the issuance of special permits for LNG shippers.
Send your comments to the government! They need to hear what you think of bomb trains by 12/23/21.