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The U.S. Department of Transportation has expanded regulation of oil trains on the fast track, with the possibility new rules could be in place by early 2015. The railroads and oil shippers should get on board, because this train will roll without them.
The Washington Department of Ecology has awarded a $250,000 contract to a New York firm to analyze how oil trains and marine oil shipments affect the state.
BILLINGS – U.S. transportation officials said Wednesday that details about volatile oil train shipments are not sensitive security information, after railroads have sought to keep the material from the public following a string of fiery accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents.
About 50 people attended a rally Wednesday at Riverfront Park, urging state officials to consider how shipping more crude oil through Western Washington ports would affect rail traffic and public safety in Spokane. At the Port of Grays Harbor, operators of two oil terminals have proposed major expansions. If Imperium Renewables’ and Westway Terminal Co.’s plans are approved, more than 1,100 trains could pass through the Inland Northwest each year, hauling up to 48 million barrels of crude to the terminals, or returning empty tankers to the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Eastern Montana.
It’s a helpless feeling watching trains chug through town with volatile cargo. Cities can’t do anything to ensure safety. Neither can states, because rail is regulated by the feds. On Wednesday, train cars carrying crude oil derailed near downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, pitching three tankers into the James River. Smoke from the massive fire darkened the sky. Nearby buildings were evacuated. Mercifully, nobody was hurt.
The likelihood of a fiery, Quebec-style oil train derailment in the Inland Northwest is considered remote but authorities already have begun planning for the worst as shipments of Bakken crude rolling through Spokane keep growing. “If we have a moderate to severe event, we’re going to be stretched very thin,” said Deputy Spokane Valley Fire Chief Andy Hail. “We’re looking at a potential depletion of local resources.”
WASHINGTON – Sen. Maria Cantwell and other lawmakers took aim at federal regulators on Thursday for failing to provide a timeline for new regulations on railcars that carry crude oil across the Inland Northwest. U.S. Department of Transportation officials declined to say when new regulations requiring the replacement of below-standard railcars would be in place, while industry officials touted a decrease in collisions over the last 10 years.
Risks posed by rail shipments of coal and oil drew increased attention last week with a series of announcements involving expansion of energy markets in the region. Environmentalists issued a report estimating that fossil fuels could bring 82 trains a day through Spokane and Sandpoint a decade from now. BNSF Railway officials said those estimates are unsubstantiated.
Refinery owner Tesoro will upgrade its rail fleet for shipping crude oil by midyear, purchasing newer, puncture-resistant rail cars. The San Antonio company’s announcement follows a string of fiery oil train derailments in the United States and Canada, including one that killed 47 people in Quebec last July. The explosions prompted federal scrutiny and concerns from states and communities on the route of oil trains.
OLYMPIA – The Legislature took tentative steps Tuesday to demand more information and develop stricter controls on crude oil moving through the state by rail and barge. But unlike the Spokane City Council, which Monday night voted unanimously to request more controls on the growing number of oil shipments, the Legislature is clearly split on how much information to request and how quickly to develop new regulations.
A string of train accidents involving crude oil shipments in the U.S. and Canada is causing uneasiness in Spokane and other communities bisected by railways. And the safety of rail cars and hazardous cargo is under intensifying scrutiny. With the number of oil trains from the upper Great Plains expected to increase through the Spokane area, the risk of spills and potentially deadly fires is a growing concern, City Council President Ben Stuckart said.
Oil trains traveling through the Inland Northwest cross Lake Pend Oreille and pass over the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. The rail route also follows portions of the Spokane River, Hangman Creek and the Columbia River. Though recent news has focused on fiery derailments of oil trains, the potential for spills into the region’s lakes and rivers is also a concern.
A proposal to ship North Dakota crude oil through Spokane by train drew mostly opponents at a hearing Wednesday night. About 75 people showed up for the state hearing on a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver that could result in up to four oil trains daily passing through Spokane.
Last year, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota chugged across Eastern Washington en route to a Puget Sound refinery. The oil train was the first for the region, but oil shipments through Spokane could become common in the future.