It’s an urgent case: the content of “wetlines” legislation could be decided this fall, according to John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC).
Wetlines – the lines underneath truck tanks that can retain fuel – are a safety concern of some legislators and the National Transportation Safety Board. A ban of wetlines on any trailer hauling “hazardous materials” is included in the current draft of the Hazardous Material Transportation Act (HMTA) Reauthorization Bill. The bill, currently in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is part of the Highway Reauthorization bill, which might be adopted within a year to 18 months, according to Conley and other industry leaders.
But if adoption is that far off, why is it so urgent that the industry speak up about the proposed wetlines legislation right now?
Conley said it’s because the wording of the wetlines section of the bill will likely be settled very soon, even as early as the end of September.
“Once the huge transportation bill starts moving [Congress is] going to be worrying about things like roads and jobs, and size and weight of trucks,” Conley said. Relatively smaller concerns such as hardware on cargo trucks “ain’t going to get a lot of attention,” Conley said. “That’s why it’s a very current issue.”
It’s a matter of putting across industry views in a hurry.
Heating Oil Possible Exemption
As currently written, the wetlines amendment carries slightly different import for truck operators that haul fuel oil and truck operators that move gasoline and diesel fuel, according to Conley.
The phrase “all hazardous materials,” could be seen to apply to trucks with wetlines holding oil “as well as other products, which can be classified as combustibles, Conley said. However, straight trucks of the kind used in the delivery of home heating oil have been exempted in the language, according to Conley, “so the dealer who goes out and makes ten, fifteen stops for home heating deliveries” is exempt right now from the bill.
Heating oil trucks do appear exempt from the proposed wetlines regulation, according to Jim Collura, vice president for government affairs, New England Fuel Institute (NEFI).
The Fuel Institute reported in a recent edition of its newsletter, Neon, that it had teamed up with the Massachusetts Oilheat Council to analyze the draft language of the bill, “and it appears that most heating oil cargo tanks may fall under an exemption in most cases because the cargo tank is permanently affixed.”
However, the Fuel Institute’s newsletter went on to note that “the broader measure would require any type of hazardous material, including heating oil and other distillates, be purged from external piping in regulated vehicles, and so would prevent petroleum haulers that do not meet the exemption language outlined above from downgrading a trailer with wet-lines from gasoline to a distillate fuel.”
In the case of gasoline transport, the focus of legislators is on the loading process, in which the fuel goes in via the lines, filling the tank from the bottom to the top. When the emergency valve on the bottom of each compartment is closed there is still product in the lines between the emergency valve and the loading rack. In each of those lines, depending on its length, there can be approximately eight to twelve gallons, or as much as 45 to 50 gallons of gasoline per trailer, NTTC’s Conley said.
At the delivery end, drivers typically make a full load delivery of the gasoline, noted Conley. “Everything in the trailer goes into the underground storage tank,” Conley said, “so there’s really not a problem with the wetlines” when it comes to gasoline delivery.
But anybody using a trailer would be covered by the legislation, and that raises a couple of major issues, Conley said.
The way the wetlines section is now worded, any new trailer built to haul hazmat materials two years after implementation of the bill would have to have some mechanism for removing product from the lines under the trailer.
Further, the bill would require a retrofit effective in the year 2020. “Come 2020,” Conley said, “any trailer that’s out there today would have to be retrofitted with some kind of a device that would remove the product from the lines.”
Many such trailers last 25, 30 years, Conley noted, so trailers bought today or even several years ago would eventually become subject to the retrofitting requirement under the current wording.
The legislation has strong support of the National Transportation Safety Board, Conley said, and the Democrat-controlled House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “very much wants to pass something in this area.”
The NTTC, as well as NEFI and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA) have been expressing the opposition to the proposed wetlines legislation, in its entirety, or in part.
“We first of all don’t think the bill is even necessary,” Conley said on behalf of the NTTC. “The statistics show that, yes, wetlines incidents of gasoline have happened, but they’re so rare that they don’t justify what the Congress is doing.
“Secondly, and more importantly, we have a major concern about the whole retrofit process,” Conley said. Right now there is one manufacturer that we’re aware of who makes a product, and to install that on an old trailer you would need to do welding on it. One of the things the industry has always tried to avoid is doing hot work or welding work on petroleum trailers.”
Ensuring all vapors are out of a tank “can be done safely if you know what you’re doing,” Conley said. “If you don’t, there’s a real problem. We’re aware of 20 deaths in the last ten years of people going out and doing welding on trailers that they thought had been clear of all vapors.”
The prospect of requiring such “hot work” on all existing trailers inspires “a very major safety concern from a worker safety standpoint,” Conley said.
The goal of the NTTC is to have no retrofit requirement at all, Conley said.
If the legislation were to pass as currently written how would petroleum product transporters cope?
“What we’ve said all along is just let the oil companies drain it back into a storage tank, a slop tank,” Conley said. But the oil companies reject that proposed solution as unworkable, Conley said, and are likely to win on that point.
The most practical solution, and what is probably going to happen, according to Conley, is that equipment manufacturers will develop a device to move product out of the lines, probably by pushing the fuel into the trailer.
Simon Hill, director of the global cargo tank business unit of Civacon, part of the OPW Fluid Transfer Group, said Civacon would have a new range of products designed to deal with fuel in wetlines “to be available certainly before the end of this year.” Hill said the products will consist of a pumping system that makes use of electronic sensing.
Civacon, among other manufacturers, had done some development work on systems to move liquid from wetlines a few years ago when a federal rulemaking initiated. But that rulemaking was dropped by the Department of Transportation after a study showed that the costs would outweigh the benefits, industry observers said.
In a letter to Conley about the currently proposed wetlines legislation, Hill of Civacon wrote:
"We believe it will not offer any additional operational benefits to the industry and any increase in operational safety in an accident environment would be marginal at best.
"We are concerned however regarding the overall cost to the industry in terms of cost of equipment and installation and possible recalibration of each compartment. We also have a safety concern if the mandate is made to retrofit to existing trailers due to a requirement for welding, grinding and drilling on each compartment and run-off line.
"We also have environmental concerns as current technology will result in additional increases in VOC releases to the atmosphere."
In the letter, Hill went on to estimate that “a cost per new trailer built would be in the region of $4,000 to $7,000.” Hill also wrote, “If wet lines were mandated to retrofit to existing trailers we estimate a labor cost of approximately $3,000 per trailer plus equipment cost of $4,000 to $7,000.”
Brandon Wright, spokesman for the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), said, “Our concern is that this would create a tremendous financial burden to our members who are small business owners. This economic climate right now isn’t friendly to anybody, particularly small business owners who already have a tough time getting access to credit.”