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Opening Remarks - Rail Safety Forum: Transportation of Crude Oil and Ethanol
Deborah A.P. Hersman
Washington, DC

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.
And I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Mr. Manuel Kotchounian of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, who will be joining our technical panel on Federal Oversight and Industry Initiatives. I appreciate the cooperation of Chairman Tadros and our international counterparts.
The United States economy is the largest on Earth. To fuel that economy, the U.S. uses more energy than any other nation. Today, more of our energy needs are being met closer to home: Quietly, in 2011, the U.S. became a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time since 1949. This is a good thing for our nation.
But at the end of the day, millions of dollars are invested to seek out new oil reserves. A commensurate investment must be made to ensure safe transportation of these goods.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) stated in a 2012 report that crude oil traffic has grown by 443 percent since 2005. Much of the growth came in a nearly four-fold increase of crude oil shipments from 2011 to 2012. Moreover, some of this crude oil – such as that originating in the Bakken Formation – may have more volatile properties, which increases the likelihood of a violent fire in the event of a derailment.
Transportation of ethanol by rail has boomed as well, growing 442 percent between 2005 and 2010. In 2012, ethanol was the most frequently transported hazardous material in the railway system.
With so much flammable liquid carried by rail, it is incumbent upon the rail industry, shippers, and regulators to ensure that these hazardous materials are being moved safely.
Our opening presentation will detail a spate of recent accidents in the United States and Canada demonstrating that far too often, safety has been compromised. The names of the communities are forever etched in the minds of our investigators, and call to mind the destruction or evacuation of towns, the loss of lives, and the environmental and economic impacts: Lac Megantic, Quebec. Casselton, North Dakota. Cherry Valley, Illinois. And others.
We are here today to answer the safety questions that such accidents raise.
How are tank cars designed and constructed?
What is their vulnerability to failure in accidents?
What railroad operations, recommended practices, training and safety measures may prevent an accident or reduce the severity and consequences of flammable liquid tank car failures?
What unique problems do first responders and railroads face when dealing with crude oil and ethanol releases from derailed tank cars?
And what Federal oversight and industry initiatives address tank car design, risk reduction, and emergency response and mitigation?
The NTSB called this forum not to lecture but to learn. We welcome the points of view and opinions of tank car builders, railroad operators, tank car owners, shippers, emergency responders, researchers, and regulators.
In a moment, our forum coordinator Matt Nicholson will explain the panels we have convened to help us get at these questions.
Moving crude oil and ethanol across North America by rail carries unique safety challenges. It is precisely because these products are so energy-dense that they are both valuable and hazardous.
With this enormous growth in energy production comes a responsibility for the safety of the men and women who transport it, who respond to releases, and the people who live alongside the tracks on which these hazardous materials travel.
I look forward to a productive two days.
I will now turn to Matt Nicholson, who, along with his staff, has done an outstanding job in organizing this forum. Matt.