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DOT Rule for Cargo Pressure Vessels Draws Criticism from Propane Industry

A NEW federal ruling mandates daily pressure testing of transfer hoses on liquefied compressed gas vehicles and continuous observation of the cargo tank by the driver during delivery. The latter requirement brought a strong response from the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA).

The Department of Transportation's Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) issued HM-225, Hazardous Materials: Cargo Tank Motor Vehicles in Liquefied Compressed Gas Service. The final rule was published in the Federal Register Wednesday, December 10.

Rick Roldan, NPGA vice-president for governmental relations, Washington DC, says continuous observation of the cargo tank is not only impossible, but unsafe in some propane delivery situations.

RSPA requires that an observer must be within arm's reach anytime an internal self-closing valve is open. But, the agency takes no position on observation of the customer's tank, Roldan says. NPGA contends that propane distributors will need observers to adequately comply with the new regulation.

The propane industry also objects to requirements for immediate implementation of remote-controlled emergency shutoff systems. Roldan says the requirement is impossible because appropriate equipment is not currently available, and what is available has not been properly tested.

Safety Needs The NPGA supports using a remote system that meets its safety needs. "We think that might provide the most promising solution in the long-term, but we do oppose the government requiring installation of untested equipment," Roldan says. "It has never been tested in winter operating conditions. For example, the batteries don't work at 20 degrees (F) or below.

"We are concerned about hose testing, safe and tested equipment, retention of the equipment once it is approved and installed, and the need for someone to constantly observe the cargo tank."

The NPGA is satisfied with rules applying to hoses and supports a reasonable time limit to meet the remote-control device requirement, he says. "We should get the technological and testing part out of the way and have time to conduct the retrofit, and not be required to have a different device later."

Cliff Harvison, president of National Tank Truck Carriers Inc, says the rule reiterates DOT's position with respect to a series of rule makings on these subjects and others. "There's nothing really new in the December 10 announcement," he says, noting regulations have contained a long-standing rule that a person be within an arm's length of the equipment used to activate the internal self-closing stop valve during unloading, a position the NTTC endorses for safety reasons.

Harvison says the rule impacts propane marketers because of their specific operations, but tank truck carriers should find it easier to comply. "We believe that DOT acted appropriately given the circumstances. This is a continuing docket. Obviously, if DOT came out with a retrofit that we felt was inappropriate, then we might lock heads," he says. The rule responds to petitions for reconsideration filed by Farmland Industries Inc, The Fertilizer Institute, and AmeriGas Propane LP. It revises a requirement concerning daily pressure testing of transfer hoses and changes a previous determination that hose rupture is a cause of internal self-closing valve function.

Previously, RSPA required the hose to be subject to daily full transfer pressure before the first unloading but agreed in the new rule that the test was not appropriate for large and small transports. The agency agreed that some cargo tank pumping systems are not capable of safely pumping against a closed product valve without being damaged. To alleviate the risk, RSPA revised the rule to allowan operator to determine if there is a leak by verifying that the pressure in the discharge system reaches at least equilibrium with the pressure inside the cargo tank.

In addition RSPA agreed with AmeriGas that the word "rupture" denotes a leak or partial failure rather than an actual separation and leaves room for confusion. The word was removed.

Reconsideration Request The latest final rule denies AmeriGas' request for reconsideration of the rule that a qualified person must always maintain an unobstructed view of the cargo tank.

Roldan says that if disputes over the rule regarding propane delivery are not solved, he anticipates appeal through the judicial and legislative branches of government. At the end of last year, Rep Spencer Bachus, R-La, introduced a bill, at the request of NPGA, to prohibit the Secretary of Transportation from imposing certain aspects of the rule, Roldan says. The bill addresses concerns that the driver has to leave the customer's tank to be within the required distance of the delivery tank and the requirement of adding an additional employee to meet that demand.

Production of the recommended remote-control devices is underway, but supply falls far short of demand, Roldan says. He estimates that compliance will cost $660 million to retrofit the industry's approximately 24,000-truck fleet.

Meanwhile, he says, companies are interpreting the rule and moving to comply, some trying to get the equipment, install it if they can find it, and if they have been able to purchase it, testing it on the trucks. They also are attempting to adapt to the other requirements. Some managers are telling drivers to take another person with them when they know a delivery requires them to be out of sight of the truck. "It's really creating operational havoc out there," he says.

Enforcement of the rule appears to have low priority with DOT, he says. "That makes it rather paradoxical because HM-225 was issued as an emergency rule. Few states are expected to enforce it, which leads to more confusion."

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