SEATTLE – Citing deadly risks associated with increasing volatile shipments of crude oil through Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday said state and federal governments need to take swift action to prevent and respond to oil spills.
The governor likened an oil train explosion to “a bomb” going off, and said he’s concerned that local emergency responders, particularly in smaller communities along rail lines, aren’t adequately prepared to respond to accidents.
Derailments of oil trains have caused explosions in several states and Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded in Lac-Megantic in July 2013.
“We don’t want a chance for that to happen in our state,” Inslee said at a news conference, where he released preliminary results of a state study on the safety and environmental risks of oil transport.
The study recommends more railroad inspectors, more money for the state’s oil spill response and prevention program, boosting firefighting and oil-spill equipment and ensuring that those who transport oil can pay for cleanup.
Inslee said he’ll use the report to help shape a proposal to the 2015 Legislature. That will likely include asking for more money as well as requiring that industry be responsible for some share of oil spill prevention and response.
“We think it’s appropriate that the industry buck up and be responsible for additional safety requirements,” the governor said.
The state collects an oil spill response tax when crude oil and petroleum is received at a marine terminal from a vessel or barge, but that tax isn’t collected when oil is moved by rail or pipeline.
Lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to change that in previous sessions.
The state also requires vessels carrying petroleum products across its waters to show financial responsibility.
The draft study recommends extending those requirements to rail and mobile facilities.
BNSF Railway said in a statement Wednesday that it shares the state’s commitment to ensuring that crude oil is transported safely by rail.
The company said it has taken significant steps to improve safety, such as training thousands of local emergency responders each year, including nearly 600 in Washington.
The company notes that it has staged specialized equipment across its network, including in Everett, Seattle, Longview, Wishram, Pasco and Spokane, and that it plans to spend $235 million in the state this year on track maintenance, new equipment and on safety.
Inslee also called on the federal government to lower speed limits for trains with older tank cars, known as DOT-111s, and to phase out those older tank cars more quickly.
As many as 17 trains, each carrying at least 1 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, crisscross the state every week. Between eight and 13 such trains travel weekly along Seattle’s downtown, stadium and waterfront.
Many more trains are expected in the state if several proposed oil-by-rail terminals are built.
The governor will make the final call on a river-and-rail operation in Vancouver that is under review.
The project by Tesoro and Savage Companies could handle as much as 380,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Inslee said he couldn’t comment on that case because of his role in permitting.
But he said that, as with any permitting decision, he would pay attention to safety risks.
The state Utilities and Transportation Commission also has been looking at railroad crossings along oil train routes to ensure they’re safe.
The agency inspects about 1,000 of the 3,000 crossings each year.
“When you’re going to have more trains, and you’re going to more trains that are carrying dangerous materials, then you basically need to change the equation of what safety is,” said David Danner, the commission’s chairman.
He said they’ve identified 22 railroad crossings along the oil train routes throughout the state that warrant further review and have taken action on six to increase safety.
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