A new federal rule that would allow trains to carry bulk liquefied natural gas (LNG) by railcar across the country has been met with a legal challenge filed by 14 states, including Pennsylvania, as well as one filed by several environmental groups.
Both challenges argue that the rule, which was approved in June by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and took effect Aug. 24, did not adequately consider safety or environmental impacts of allowing bulk train transport of LNG, which is natural gas that becomes liquefied at extremely cold temperatures. The LNG is potentially explosive should it vaporize.
“The Department’s new rule carefully lays out key operational safeguards to provide for the safe transportation of LNG by rail to more parts of the country where this energy source is needed,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a PMSHA press release announcing the final rule. Previously, LNG has been allowed to be shipped by rail in portable tanks.
The rule requires the railcars to have enhanced outer tanks and requires monitoring of the cars’ pressure and location and improved braking systems.
The legal challenges don’t spell out full arguments, but the attorneys general of the states involved in the petition in January filed a “strong objection” to the proposed rule, arguing that it would allow transport through “densely populated areas, potentially in unit trains of up to 100 tank cars operated by just one person, on the same rail lines used by high speed passenger trains, with inadequate safety precautions.”
It argues that if an LNG spill should occur because of a crash or other accident, there would be a “high risk of fire” as a vapor cloud would form.
While no transport has occurred yet, a company plans to build an LNG terminal in New Jersey and ship gas by rail from the Marcellus play in northeastern Pennsylvania, according to a published report.
There have been several incidents in Pennsylvania involving trains carrying crude oil, including a derailment in 2014 that led to the spill of thousands of gallons of oil in Westmoreland County.
LNG is seen as a way to increase use of the abundant natural gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica shales by shipping it to other areas of the country and overseas, where it is needed.