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Besides the structure of rail cars, lack of computerized control of trains — called positive train control — and the unique volatility of oil drawn from the Bakken Formation were sore points at the hearing.
Positive train control will require installation of roughly 22,000 antennae near tracks across the country. The Federal Communications Commission has delayed antenna deployment while it checks to see if any of the sites violate environmental and historic preservation laws. Several senators blasted the FCC for bureaucratic foot-dragging.
The unique volatility of Bakken oil also remains in dispute. The oil and gas industry denies it, but the Department of Transportation has said the oil drawn from North Dakota “may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”
Quarterman of the Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said the government has moved from testing its flash point and boiling point to looking at its vapor pressure and sulfur and flammable gas content. Still, regulators and industry have not settled on a new testing or classification regimen.
“It’s a learning process,” Quarterman said.
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123