Score one for the petroleum fleets

July 1, 2006
TANK TRUCK fleets involved in transporting various petroleum products have good reason to celebrate. They and the associations representing their interests

TANK TRUCK fleets involved in transporting various petroleum products have good reason to celebrate. They and the associations representing their interests in Washington DC scored an impressive win on the federal regulatory front in June.

Their lobbying efforts convinced the bureaucrats at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to halt work on a rule that could have resulted in more deaths during implementation than it would have prevented when fully in place. It was a rule that had to be stopped.

“We certainly are happy to have this issue finally put behind us,” says John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC). “It is important to note that the system worked. One government agency perceived a problem, and another government agency proposed a solution. The industry — including the American Trucking Associations, Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, and the American Petroleum Institute — developed a detailed response that challenged that solution. The government obviously reviewed our comments seriously and withdrew the proposal. We appreciate receiving a fair hearing and truly believe they reached the right conclusion.”

The proposed regulation in question was HM-213B, which would have prohibited retained product in exposed piping (wetlines) on petroleum tank trailers. While wetlines were addressed in regulation, as far back as 1989, the rule PHMSA withdrew was published in April 2003. Cliff Harvison, who retired as NTTC president at the end of 2005, headed the industry effort to oppose the proposed rule from the outset. He says it was flawed from the beginning because the evidence cited as justification was at best questionable. The rule-writers were trying to address a problem that didn't really exist.

PHMSA and its predecessor agency, the Research and Special Programs Administration, spent years and countless federal tax dollars in the foolish pursuit of that rule. The wasted effort finally came to a close when termination of the rulemaking effort was announced in the June 7 Federal Register.

PHMSA wrote in the announcement that “In the final analysis, we did not identify a cost-effective approach for addressing the risk of wetlines transportation through regulatory action. Based on the revised regulatory evaluation, we believe the benefits of a final rule prohibiting…wetlines only on newly constructed CTMVs (cargo tank motor vehicles) may slightly outweigh the costs. However, given the sensitivity of the cost-benefit determination to variations in the data and the inherent margin for error in the overall analysis, it is possible, even for newly constructed CTMVs, (that) the costs of a regulatory solution will outweigh potential benefits.”

What PHMSA bureaucrats glossed over in the Federal Register notice was the reality that HM-213B literally could have gutted the petroleum transportation industry. Carriers were facing the possibility of having to invest many millions of dollars to retrofit their fleets with expensive and complex wetlines purging systems. Some fleets would have been forced to shut down at a time when petroleum transport capacity already is very tight.

Greg Price, president of United Petroleum Transports and current NTTC chairman, sums up the fleet viewpoint: “As a carrier, I am delighted that this rule has been withdrawn. We would have had to spend at least $3,000 per petroleum trailer to comply, and there is little evidence there would have been any improvement in safety. We are mostly small- and medium-sized family businesses in the petroleum transportation industry, and this rule would have been financially devastating.”

However, the equipment investment cost was nothing compared with the risk that the proposed regulation would have posed for the cargo tank repair shops that would have had the unenviable task of retrofitting thousands of petroleum trailers in a relatively short time. The process would have required cutting and welding on cargo tanks that had been in service for decades. It was a recipe for disaster.

Tank repair shop workers were going to be injured and were going to die in the retrofit process. The risk to cargo tank mechanics was virtually ignored by PHMSA. Instead, the agency justified the rule on the basis that it might prevent at most one or two deaths a year in what it termed wetlines collisions, in which a motorist broadsides a tanker damaging just the piping. Data gathered during the rulemaking showed that these accidents are extremely rare.

Fortunately, PHMSA's bureaucrats came to their senses, and it's time to move on. We know that there are many dedicated professionals at the agency who care about the well being of the tank truck industry. They have worked closely with the industry to address mutual concerns. HM-213B was an unfortunate exception.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.