LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - U.S. federal regulators issued an emergency order requiring more stringent testing of crude oil before shipment by rail. This follows a series of oil train derailments and fires since last summer involving oil from the Bekken region of North Dakota and Montana.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the mandate places crude oil under the two most protective sets of hazardous materials' shipping requirements, rather than allowing some shipments to be treated as less dangerous.
Sergeant James Anderson with Louisiana State Police says emergency first responders need to know exactly what they're dealing with in case of an emergency.
"If a product is more volatile than another product, it needs to be implicated as such," said Anderson. "We're making necessary adjustments from a regulatory perspective and from an emergency response perspective as well."
Anderson says his agency is one of many set to respond to a train derailment. He says the most recent derailment in Louisiana happened in Lawtell last year.
"There were some chemicals on there that needed to be rendered safe before we could allow people back in," said Anderson. "I got to see first-hand, I was there for a week, how the railroad, first responders, state police hazmat unit, the Department of Environmental Quality and local officials, all worked together to ensure the safety of everyone involved."
Anderson also says though train derailments are less likely to happen in Southwest Louisiana, he recommends communities along rail lines always be prepared.
"Shipping by rail is a very safe way of shipping," said Anderson. "But if I lived by the rails, I'd want to have a bag ready to go just in case I did need to evacuate my home and understand that's always a possibility even though not a very likely one."
The emergency order includes determining how corrosive the oil is to steel and aluminum and whether dangerous and explosive gas hydrogen sulfide is present and requires determining the percentage of flammable gasses in the oil.
President of the American Petroleum Institute Jack Gerard says industry standards for how those tests would be conducted could take several months to finalize.