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State Firefighters: Halt Oil Trains Until Safety Review Complete

By Joel Connelly - Seattle Post Intelligencer, July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The movement of oil by rail through Washington should be halted until completion of a safety study recently authorized by Gov. Jay Inslee,  according to the Washington State Council of Firefighters.

“The WSCFF asks Governor Inslee to do all in his power to halt the movement of this crude by rail until completion of his study in March 2015 and the determination that this crude by rail can be moved safely through our cities and rural areas,” the firefighters said in a toughly worded resolution adopted last week.

In September of 2008, the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes accepted its first shipment of oil by rail.  Since then, refineries in Anacortes and at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham have rapidly moved to increase volume.

At the same time, the firefighters list a series of derailments and explosions, the most catastrophic a year ago in Lac Megantic, Quebec — 47 people were killed and the town center leveled — but also notably an explosion in an near Casselton, North Dakota.

Tesoro has announced that it is phasing out aging, 1960′s vintage DOT-111 tank cars.  Tesoro is proposing what it calls the Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal on the Columbia River.

It would handle up to 360,000 barrels of oil a day, taken from trains and put on ships to supply West Coast refineries and possibly for future export.

The firefighters are particularly worried about oil coming from a new field in North Dakota, which is not linked by pipeline to other regions of the country. The WSCFF’s resolution states:

“The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PMSHA) has determined this Bakken crude oil may be more flammable than traditional crude oil; and

“The vast majority (78,000 out of 92,000 of the tank cars used in the transport of this explosive Bakken crude oil through our state are DOT-111′s, which have been known to puncture upon impact since 1991.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has pressured the Department of Transportation to come up with safety standards for oil trains by the end of the year.  Canada has already put in place safety procedures after the Lac Megantic disaster.

The DOT has told oil companies to inform  emergency response agencies of oil shipments by rail through their states.  But the order applies only to very long trains.  In Washington, conflict has arisn between railroads’ desire to keep the information confidential, and provisions of the state Public Records Act.

The firefighters’ resolution makes one point abundantly clear.

Oil trains are a very big deal in Eastern Washington, Southwest Washington, as well as Puget Sound population centers.  The WSCFF said.

“These unit oil trains composed of 100 to 150 tankers filled with Bakken crude oil now travel through our state from Spokane, down the Columbia River and up the I-5 corridor north to refineries and possibly through Rochester along the Chehalis River west . . . to three proposed marine transfer terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor . . .

“At the same time, the burden to protect is being placed on local jurisdictions — many who are struggling to maintain their fire fighters and first responders, let alone provide them with adequate resources to respond to oil fires, explosions and derailments.”

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