U.S. Senators Appeal to Senate Appropriations Committee for Railway Safety Funding

Crude Oil Train Passing Mountain
Crude Oil Train Passing Mountain

Approximately 70% of the oil produced in North Dakota is transported by rail. Safety concerns mounted after an incident where two BNSF operated trains carrying Bakken crude collided and derailed near Casselton, ND, in late December 2013. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said about 400,000 gallons or ~950 bbls of oil were spilled. Now, Senators from across the country are appealing to the Senate Appropriations Committee for railway safety funding this month.

In early April of this year, North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called on fellow members to support railway safety measures and a push for more rail inspectors. Specifically, Hoeven would like to see funding go to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Read moreAre More Pipelines and Rail Safety Measures Needed in Bakken - Senator John Hoeven - Video

In January of this year, PHMSA issued a safety alert for Bakken crude due. The alert reinforced the need to test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate de-gassify the crude oil before transportation. PHMSA is also working on new regulations for double hulled tankers.

Read more:Department of Transportation's PHMSA Issues Bakken Shale Oil Shipping Safety Alert

On a related note, several U.S. Senators appealed to the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington D.C. for rail safety funding in a joint-letter on April 4th. The letter was signed by 16 U.S. Senators, and highlighted the "Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund".  

A Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund would provide U.S. Department of Transportation new flexibility to address emerging issues related to the transportation of Bakken crude and other energy products – including, but not limited to: more expeditious rulemakings, technical studies, increased rail and energy product inspections, safety mitigation and response planning, first responder training, and community outreach. Additionally, the Fund would provide needed additional resources to complete Operation Backpressure, a study of the qualities and characteristics of crude oil in the United States. Completion of this study is an important step because its results will inform future regulatory action.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing will take place this week, Wednesday, April 9th, to examine the level of federal resources that should be allotted for railway safety. North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp will be in attendance at the hearing to ask questions of the scheduled witnesses.

The derailment in Casselton and other recent rail crashes have rightly kept this issue on the minds of many in Washington and across the country. And I’m continuing to push for the issue of rail safety to remain front and center, said Heitkamp.

Read more at hoeven.senate.gov

Read more at heitkamp.senate.gov

Read more at franken.senate.gov

Bakken Crime Causes Feud Between Senators


Does it seem like North Dakota and Montana have turned into the wild West over the past several years? Some folks may claim that it has, especially as crime rates continue to rise in both states. Drug offenses and a slew of other illicit activities remain an issue of great concern. In July of 2013, 2 FBI agents and an agency intelligence specialist were posted in Sidney, MT, approximately forty-five miles away from where they were originally to be posted in Williston, ND, due to a housing shortage.

Now, there is a battle brewing between senators from both North Dakota and Montana, because of the possibility that the FBI agents could be moved back to Williston. In a joint letter to FBI Director, James Covey, Senators John Hoeven and Heitkamp, requested that the agents return to Williston. Senator Jon Tester of Montana did not agree, and said the following in his letter to Covey:

Moving agents from eastern Montana to western North Dakota is not an effective response to our region’s growing problems.
— Senator Jon Tester


In 2008 when oil prices skyrocketed, cities like Williston, North Dakota and Sidney, Montana, changed overnight, as advanced drilling technologies (i.e. horizontal drilling) allowed oil companies to access the oil rich Bakken Shale. Over time, motorhomes and man camps have become a regular sight, as thousands of people have flocked to the area in search of well-paying jobs.

There's no doubt that cities like Williston, ND and Sidney, MT could easily be characterized as a boomtowns. Webster's Dictionary simply defines this as "a town that experiences a sudden growth in business and population." When that happens, what follows is generally an increase in crime-related activity.

It remains to be seen where the federal agents will be permanently posted, but one thing is certain, and that is a federal presence will continue to be necessary in the region.

Read more: Senator Jon Tester Press Release

Read more: Senator John Hoeven and Senator Heidi Heitkamp Letter