The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 12, 2014

Lawmakers: Stronger oil spill response needed

ST. PAUL (AP) — Recent crude oil train catastrophes in North Dakota and Canada show that Minnesota needs to beef up its ability to protect its communities from similar disasters, a pair of lawmakers said Wednesday.

Against the backdrop of a large rail yard in St. Paul, Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble outlined a bill they plan to introduce at the start of the upcoming legislative session that would impose a fee of about one-one hundredth of 1 cent per gallon of crude oil transported across Minnesota by rail or pipeline. The Minneapolis Democrats said the fee would raise $15 million to $30 million a year to help state agencies and local authorities with planning and training for potential oil spills.

The state's ability to respond to oil emergencies is "woefully inadequate due to a lack of preparedness and a lack of resources," Hornstein told reporters.

The drilling boom that's made North Dakota the country's No. 2 oil producing state behind Texas has led to a boom in crude oil shipments by rail, because existing pipeline networks can't handle the volume. The shipments involve long "unit trains" that typically haul around 100 tanker cars each to refineries elsewhere.

The legislators' proposal would require state agencies that oversee the industry to adopt stricter standards and stronger response plans than federal law requires, and provide funding for emergency response programs statewide. While the bill is aimed primarily at rail shipments, it also would require the state to develop response standards for spills on Lake Superior in case proposals to ship oil on tanker ships via the Great Lakes go forward.

Dibble and Hornstein chair transportation committees and said they plan to hold hearings on their bill soon after the session convenes Feb. 25.

An average of eight crude oil trains cross Minnesota every day, with around six of them going through the Twin Cities, said Dave Christianson, a senior planner for rail and freight with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

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