Extended: PHMSA LNG by rail car exception until 2019-08-07 on 2019-07-09

The only extension request PHMSA admitted to today, as it extended the comment period for a month, was from two members of Congress. That request notes:

If Energy Transport Solutions intends to run 100+ rail tank cars on the Florida East Coast Railway, PHMSA would be placing large swaths of people and critical infrastructure (hospitals, schools, highways, and even the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort) in jeopardy.

[3.3.2 Probability of Delayed Ignition]
3.3.2 Probability of Delayed Ignition

PHMSA also took the opportunity to add an Updated Environmental Assessment (EA), and a Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA), which is worthless: “The scope of the QRA addresses unit train movements along one example route located in the Northeastern United States.” The QRA has no maps nor any specific identification of populations, schools, hospitals, businesses, nor even identification of which route is the example, nor which other routes might be used for shipping LNG by rail.

This all to me sounds like PHMSA always intended to extend, and to add these less than useful documents.

PHMSA also claims it added “The Energy Transport Solutions, LLC special permit application (in redacted form)” but I can’t find that online, so we still don’t even really know who the applicant is.

Extension Notice

A Notice by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on 07/09/2019 (Or see PDF.)


Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), DOT.


Notice; comment period extension.


PHMSA is extending the comment period for the notice announcing the availability for public review of and comment on the draft environmental assessment for a special permit request to transport “Methane, Refrigerated Liquid” (i.e., liquefied natural gas) by rail tank car.


The comment period for the notice published June 6, 2019, at 84 FR 26507, is extended. Comments should

Start Printed Page 32832

be received on or before August 7, 2019. To the extent possible, PHMSA will consider late-filed comments.


Comments should reference the Docket number for this notice and may be submitted in the following ways:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Fax: 1-202-493-2251.
  • Mail: Docket Management System; U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Routing Symbol M-30, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590.
  • Hand Delivery: To the Docket Management System; Room W12-140 on the ground floor of the West Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name and Docket Number (PHMSA-2019-0100) for this notice at the beginning of the comment. To avoid duplication, please use only one of these four methods. All comments received will be posted without change to the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) and will include any personal information you provide. If sent by mail, comments must be submitted in duplicate. Persons wishing to receive confirmation of receipt of their comments must include a self-addressed stamped postcard.

Docket: For access to the dockets to read associated documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov or DOT’s Docket Operations Office (see ADDRESSES). Privacy Act: In accordance with 5 U.S.C. 553(c), DOT solicits comments from the public to better inform its process. DOT posts these comments, without change, including any personal information the commenter provides, to http://www.regulations.gov, as described in the system of records notice (DOT/ALL-14 FDMS), which can be reviewed at http://www.dot.gov/privacy.


Ryan Paquet by telephone at 202-366-4511, or email at specialpermits@dot.gov.


I. Background

On June 6, 2019, PHMSA published a notice announcing the availability of a draft environmental assessment for public review. Specifically, PHMSA received a request for a special permit from Energy Transport Solutions, LLC seeking authorization to transport “Methane, Refrigerated Liquid” (UN1972), commonly known and liquefied natural gas (LNG), in a rail tank car. The request is to authorize shipment of LNG in a DOT specification 113C120W tank car subject to certain operational conditions. We invited interested persons to review and provide comment on the “draft environmental assessment” for this special permit request; and to include relevant information on potential safety, environmental, and any additional impacts that should be considered. PHMSA has also included the draft special permit in the docket for this notice as further reference material. The notice, draft environmental assessment, and draft special permit are available for review at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket number PHMSA-2019-0100.

II. Comment Period Extension

PHMSA is granting a request to extend the comment period. The request was received from two members of Congress.[1] PHMSA initially provided a 30-day comment period to the notice, which ends on July 8, 2019. The comment period is being extended 30 days. The comment period will now close on August 7, 2019. This will allow PHMSA to seek additional review and public input on this issue.

III. Additional Docket Materials

PHMSA is also using this comment period extension notice to make the public aware of additional documents submitted to the docket and available for public review:

  1. An updated draft Environmental Assessment.
  2. The Energy Transport Solutions, LLC Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA).
  3. The Energy Transport Solutions, LLC special permit application (in redacted form).

Issued in Washington, DC, on July 3, 2019, under authority delegated in 49 CFR part 1.97.

Drue Pearce,

Deputy Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.


1. See June 28, 2019, letter from Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Representative Tom Malinowski, which has been added to the docket at www.regulations.gov. Back to Citation

[FR Doc. 2019-14532 Filed 7-8-19; 8:45 am]


Letter from Congress members

June 28, 2019, letter from Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Representative Tom Malinowski.

Congress of the United States
Washington, BC 20515
June 28, 2019

Mr. Howard Elliott
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
US. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590

RE: DOT Special Permit (SP) 20534, to authorize Energy Transport Solutions to transport LNG by rail tank car through the densely-populated Florida coast

Mr. Elliott:

This letter requests a 30-day extension of the comment period to DOT’s Draft Final Permit DOT-SP 20534 (the “special permit”), which proposes to authorize the transportation of LNG by rail tank car. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) must also address deficiencies in its published draft environmental statement and the special permit so that the public may make informed comment.

PHMSA is required by statute to provide this opportunity to first responders, environmental groups, and public citizens, Neither the special permit, nor the draft environmental statement, adhere to Congress’ explicit instruction to provide the public with enough information to adequately consider the risks, provide suggestions, and make useful comment to assist the agency in its decision-making.1

The requested special permit presents unique and substantial risk to the safety of the public and the environment. Should even one rail tank car get punctured, the results could be catastrophic. Due to LNG’s cold temperature, if it were to spill near an ignition source, the evaporating gas can burn above the LNG pool, resulting in a pool fire that would spread as the LNG pool expanded away from its source; such a pool fire is intense, burning far more hotly and rapidly than crude oil or gasoline fires, and it cannot be extinguished. The risks of such an incident include thermal radiation. As PHMSA’s own draft environmental statement acknowledges, a BLEVE2 event is possible, which could impact individuals up to one mile away from the explosion.

The special permit is addressed to Energy Transport Solutions, LLC, but does not contain any information on the company’s address, its principals, its known assets or route networks, or contact information. More information needs to be disclosed to the public on the routes and the safety record of the shipper. A Google search shows that the company shares an address with New Fortress Energy, a unit of Fortress Investment Group, who also owns Florida East Coast Railway.

1 See 49 USC 5117(b).

2 A BLEVE, shorthand for a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion— which the draft environmental statement says is possible even with a small breach of the container (possibly due to wall metal failure)— is an event where rapid depressurization occurs in the rail tank car, resulting in an extremely rapid boiling of the liquid, a release of a significant mass of vapor in microseconds to milliseconds, and a very high pressure explosion. Despite this risk of a high-pressured explosion occurring in milliseconds, the Department’s draft environmental statement does not even examine the possibility of a cascading failure that would result in damage to more than one tank car, merely noting that this scenario is unlikely to occur.

If Energy Transport Solutions intends to run 100+ rail tank cars on the Florida East Coast Railway, PHMSA would be placing large swaths of people and critical infrastructure (hospitals, schools, highways, and even the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort) in jeopardy.

When Congress authorized the Secretary of Transportation to issue a special permit to allow a person to deviate from hazardous materials regulations, it put in place specific statutory requirements. The statute requires that, “[w]hen applying for a special permit or renewal of a special permit under this section, the person must provide an analysis prescribed by the Secretary that justifies the special permit. The Secretary shall publish in the Federal Register notice that an application for a new special permit or modification to an existing special permit has been filed and shall give the public an opportunity to inspect the safety analysis and comment on the application.3

PHMSA has incorporated a similar requirement in its regulations, which require that in order for any special permit to be issued, the applicant must provide: information describing all relevant shipping and incident experience; a statement identifying any increased risk to safety or property that may result if the special permit is granted; and either (i) substantiation, with applicable analyses, data, or test results (e.g., failure mode and effect analysis), that the proposed alternative will achieve a level of safety that is at least equal to that required by the regulation from which the special permit is sought; or (ii) an analysis that identifies each hazard, potential failure mode and the probability of its occurrence, and how the risks associated with each hazard and failure mode are controlled for.4

The deficiencies in the public filings to date suggest that the special permit was arbitrarily rushed in a way that shortchanged PHMSA’s normal review procedures. Specifically, PHMSA seems to have more questions than answers, admitting that, “the risk of puncture [of a tank car of LNG] increases with speed; but there are no test data or computer models that could be used to predict the probability of puncture at any particular speed…” and, “no test data or mathematical models exist to predict whether and when a LNG tank car exposed to an external fire would undergo a BLEVE.” These statements, and many others, suggest that the statute and regulations requiring analysis and data to justify an equivalent level of safety have not been complied with. PHMSA states that “incident data with (non-LNG) hazard materials may suggest that incidents involving rail tank cars can lead to a larger area of consequence as compared to hazard areas arising from incidents involving MC-338s cargo tank motor vehicles.” This is troublesome because the MC-338 cargo tank, which PHMSA acknowledges is likely safer, is the on/y alternative considered by PHMSA.

There are also concerns that PHMSA did not adequately consider the risks associated with the tank car proposed in the special permit to transport LNG— the DOT-113. Since 2011, there have been two accidents that have led to a breach of both the outer and inner tanks of a DOT-113 tank car. In May 2011, an accident in Moran, Kansas damaged three tank cars containing liquid ethylene, leading toa fire. In October 2014, a DOT-113 tank car carrying argon under a special permit experienced an outer and inner tank car breach. PHMSA notes that there is little that first responders can do if a cryogenic liquid rail tank car is breached.’ PHMSA’s draft environmental statement acknowledges that, the average quantity spilled per derailment involving the cryogenic liquids carried in DOT-113 tank cars (45,769 gallons) is approximately ten times greater than the average quantity spilled for all rail incidents involving hazardous materials (4,807 gallons) for the period of 2005 to 2017.

3 49 USC5117(b).

4 49 CER. § 170.105(d).

5 The draft environmental statement says, “Response and mitigation techniques beyond evacuation for breaches in cryogenic tank cars do not exist or are impractical during a derailment scenario. Breach of a cryogenic tank car will result in the loss of the entire volume of material in the tank car. Incidents are rare, though rail impacts can be high- consequence, given the quantity of hazardous materials in transportation”

Finally, the special permit does not take into consideration any operating conditions that could be placed on the special permit to ensure its safety. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has authorized the transportation of LNG by rail in intermodal containers in rare instances, but in each case has undertaken a comprehensive safety analysis and imposed rigorous operating conditions.6 In these limited instances, the FRA has required the approved operators to abide by speed restrictions, route restrictions, quantity limitations, mandatory crew minimums, mandatory LNG-specific crew training, mandatory LNG-specific training for first responders along the rail route, and FRA notification and reporting. None of these are specified in the special permit, despite the volume of LNG contemplated for transportation being significantly greater.

Introducing this level of risk to the rail network, the public, and the environment is not typically achieved through special permit.7 Given the serious risks at play, it is critical that PHMSA be transparent and direct in this process and fully consider the risks they are posing by rushing this special permit when so many questions and concems remain unaddressed.


Member of Congress

Committee on Transportation and

6 See 49 CER. § 174.63

7 A review of PHMSA’s recently-issued special permits for hazardous materials transportation indicates that many of these authorize other Federal government entities to move shipments due to natural disasters or authorize private parties for one-time shipments or minor deviations from the hazardous materials regulations. None appear to introduce the same level of risk as this special permit.

These documents are also all on the WWALS website.

You can help by contributing to the WWALS legal fund to sue FERC about shirking LNG oversight. Remember, the only location information PHMSA gave for the applicant for this exception is “Doral, FL”, which is right next to New Fortress Energy’s Hialeah LNG facility by Miami Airport.

LNG in Southeast-Florida, LNG and ports

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!