Propane Transporters Face Deadline For Applying New RSPA Regulation

June 1, 2001
ACCORDING to best estimates, there are about 33,000 propane vehicles in the United States 26,000 bulk trucks and another 6,000 to 7,000 tank trailers.

ACCORDING to best estimates, there are about 33,000 propane vehicles in the United States — 26,000 bulk trucks and another 6,000 to 7,000 tank trailers. Eventually, each vehicle will have to be retrofitted with emergency shutoff devices, based on a hydro testing schedule. July 1, 2001, will be the deadline for many vehicles. Others will get a reprieve of up to five years.

To date, many propane distributors and carriers appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach before installing the new equipment. They are arranging federally mandated pressure testing ahead of schedule in order to delay compliance. At the same time, many others are specifying the devices for new bobtails and transports, and retrofitting in-service vehicles.

The rule from the Research and Special Programs Administration(RSPA) requires that installation of the systems begin by July 1, 2001. A delay is possible for some tanks — if they receive a scheduled pressure test before that date. The test is required every five years.

Bobtails in metered service with capacities greater than 3,500 gallons must be equipped with remote control systems no later than July 1, 2003, and those under 3,500 gallons have until July 1, 2006. The RSPA regulation requires a remote control device that will cut off the truck engine and close the tank internal valve in one function.

Equipment not in metered delivery service must have passive shutdown equipment that halts the flow of product without human intervention within 20 seconds of an unintentional release caused by complete separation of a delivery hose.

Mixed Bag

“I think it's kind of a mixed bag as to what they are doing to comply with HM-225A — whether they're installing the appropriate emergency discharge control systems, or getting their pressure tests prior to the deadline,” says Mike Caldarera of the National Propane Gas Association.

“I believe there is greater confidence in the off-truck remote shutdown technology than in the passive shutdown technology at this point, but confidence is increasing on the latter type,” he says. “While I couldn't give a percentage estimate, I'd guess that there are more trucks being equipped with the off-truck remote technology required on cargo tanks with less than 3,500 gallons than there are with the passive technology required on tanks with greater than 3,500 gallons capacity.”

Several shutdown devices for bobtails in metered service are available, and others are being developed. Among the companies offering remote control devices for bobtails are McTier Supply Co, Lake Forest, Illinois; Drum Industries, Louisville, Kentucky; and Base Engineering, St John, New Brunswick, Canada.

The McTier product has a two-channel receiver, antenna, and two-channel transmitter, according to company information. The receiver can be switched from the standard on-off operation for use with throttle advance, or momentary remote activation of the hose reel's electric motor. A quick push of the transmitter button shuts down the engine and closes the truck's internal self-closing stop valve, which remains shut until the system is reactivated.

The Drum Industries product, Sentinel, is an industrial grade, high-frequency remote control. The system is capable of four functions and comes with a standard lockout feature, and selectable query function. The standard system includes a transmitter with nine-volt battery, receiver with four relays, antenna, mounting bracket, and antenna cable.

Base Engineering offers devices designed for RegO Flowmatic internal valves, air-operated internal valves, and manual cable internal valves, according to company information. The fail-safe system also closes the internal valve if power is lost or brakes are released.

Companies offering passive shutdown devices for transports and bobtails include DJT Products, Godfrey, Illinois; Base Engineering; Smart-Hose Technologies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Simonsen Industries, Quimby, Iowa.

The DJT Product system has a mechanical actuator to monitor the pressure in the discharge line of the pumping system, according to company information. If the pressure in the discharge line should fall more than 12-32 psi, the spring inside the line-break detector will push the sensing piston back, along with the sliding cam assembly. This action shifts a pneumatic air valve, which in turn trips the air circuit and vents all air pressure connected to the emergency shutoff operator. The operator closes all of the manually opened shutoff valves, which are connected to it directly, or with cables and linkages.

The Base Engineering device is a low powered micro-computer controlled system that detects leaks in piping and hose assemblies, according to company information. It detects partial and complete hose and pipe separation and automatically closes internal valves. The equipment comes with modular components.

The Smart-Hose System is a flexible hose technology designed to eliminate the potential for disaster through the use of an internal cable connected to specially designed, normally unseated valves “wedges or plungers” located on each end of the cable, according to company information. In the event of hose separation or coupling-to-hose separation, the valve “wedges or plungers” are released and instantly seat, stopping the flow in both directions.

Simonsen Industries, Quimby, Iowa, offers the Safe Delivery Systems that detects hose separation and piping shear. The system will automatically close the internal valve should separation or shear occur. It is designed to function with MC330, MC331, and non-specification cargo tanks with air-operated internal valves.

Sam McTier, owner of McTier Supply Co, is a former president of the National Propane Gas Association. He estimates that of the 26,000 bulk trucks in metered service, about 9,000 to 10,000 have been outfitted with the remote control devices. His estimates also indicate that less than 1% of the transports have been retrofitted.

“A lot of people are confused about the rules,” McTier says. “But we're starting to get more orders on the remote control devices.”

McTier also pointed out that some of the tank repair shops that conduct pressure tests are asking truck owners for disclaimers before they will do those tests.

Liability Questions

The option to postpone installing the devices may lead to liability questions, according to several industry spokesmen. Delaying installation of a device that has become an industry safety standard, in addition to a RSPA requirement, could place a company in greater legal jeopardy in the event of an accident that involves product release during loading or unloading.

McTier notes that remote shutdown devices have proven their value when there have been accidental product releases.

On the other hand, Bill Ruhl, vice-president marketing for Syltone Industries, the Drum parent company, said the companies that are choosing to wait will have the option of reviewing the best products in order to observe their performance. That may help to explain their delay.

Companies that have installed the bobtail remote control devices report their drivers are quickly trained, have adapted to their use, and are pleased with their convenience, says Steve Belyea, president of Base Engineering.

“The activity level for us has increased dramatically in the past 30 days due to trucks that were still working late into the seasons,” says Belyea. “Now that the weather is warmer, trucks are coming off the road and getting maintenance. In most cases, they are installing the shutdown equipment on the new trucks. A lot of the more responsible companies are going ahead and having the devices installed.”

As for the passive control devices, he says the Base product has been in demand, and the demand is growing. In addition, Canada has adopted a similar rule that will go into effect three or four years later than the US regulations, which would seem to indicate further market growth.

Dave Jones at DJT Products reports that many of his customers are opting for the delay by bringing equipment in for advanced pressure testing. “Some fleets, though, are getting the equipment installed,” he says. “About four or five of the major players are getting it done.”

Andrew Abrams, president of Smart-Hose Technologies, says the product is sold out for the next 30 days.

“Demand is incredible,” he says, adding that companies that have delayed pressure testing and are looking for the products as the deadline approaches may find they are unavailable.

Jack Simonsen of Simonsen Industries said, “Basically we are finding that a lot of people are getting the transports hydro tested early and are going to wait until they absolutely have to have the equipment installed. They aren't selecting the engine shutdown option or other options that are available. They just want the minimum technology that satisfies the regulation.”

Bobtail and transport builders and equipment suppliers have varying comments about the state of the industry. Carl Nause of Phoenix Industries, Loveland, Ohio, has seen almost no efforts by distributors to add the devices to their bobtail trucks. “They are not doing it,” he says. His customers are opting to delay by getting the pressure test done on schedule.

Mike Pitts at Mississippi Tank Company, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, said his company has been equipping new trailers with passive devices sporadically for the past year.

“Probably no more than 25% of the total numbers that we have shipped in the past year have the devices on them,” he said. “The trend for some customers was to ignore what was going on while others said they did not know about the regulation until now. A lot of people are trying to buy trailers now without the devices in order to delay.”

No older trailers have been in for the retrofit, he added. “Some customers are convinced that the government may relax the requirements. I have told them they can forget that. Others want to wait to see how the new equipment works out.”

On the other hand, the bobtail market is entirely different. “We have only built one new bobtail that did not have the remote control device on it,” Pitts said. “We've not had any customers complain about the situation. The one customer who wanted to wait wanted time to review the technology.”

Mike Hennen, sales representative for the Kleespie transport division, Newport, Minnesota, says a lot of customers prefer to delay installation in order to review the various product offerings.

“About 30% of our customers are getting the pressure testing done ahead of schedule and delaying the installation of the devices,” he says. “On the transport side, I think they may be a little more proactive.”

Automatic Approval

At Amthor International Inc, Gretna, Virginia, Steve Coffee, sales manager, notes that there is an advantage to installing the equipment now because it is automatically approved for new trucks.

He also believes that many companies may not be aware of the new regulations. “I see that as a problem,” he says. “On the other hand, there are a lot of people on top of the situation. The smaller companies may not be active in the National Propane Gas Association, and they are the ones that aren't aware of the safety procedures. Somebody needs to address this.”

Ray Murray Inc, Lee, Massachusetts, is a bobtail builder. Mark Wenik, product manager, says the major companies are more likely to have the resources to undertake the project. “They have their own engineering and risk management divisions.”

He says orders for passive shutoff equipment have increased as the deadline approaches. He also pointed out that product development has been expensive, yet the market is relatively small. “It has required a lot of costly research and development,” he says.

George Bryant at Texas Trailer, Gainesville, Texas, says the company recently installed its first passive control system but has had more orders for the remote control systems for bobtails.

At Keehn Service Corp, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the situation is similar to other parts of the country. “There are people who will wait until the last minute,” says Bill Robb, general manager. “A lot of people have taken the go-slow approach to see how the systems work.”

About the Author

Mary Davis