Tag Archives: Cleanup funding

Washington State report on oil train safety: new risks, more to do

Repost from BismarckTribune.com, Bakken Breakout

Study: more to do as oil trains pose new risks

December 02, 2014, PHUONG LE, Associated Press

SEATTLE — The spike in crude oil shipments by rail in Washington is creating new potential risks and will require increased safety measures and improved oil spill response and prevention, according to a state study delivered to lawmakers.

Even as more trains carry volatile shipments of crude oil into the state, nearly 60 percent of first responders said they don’t have sufficient training or resources to handle a train derailment accompanied by a fire.

The draft report delivered on Monday makes a dozen key recommendations to the Legislature for the upcoming two-year budget, including more training for first responders, more railroad inspectors and ensuring that those who transport oil can pay for cleanup.

Some actions don’t require money, but the others could total more than $14 million.

The report also outlines the environmental and safety risks from oil transport, many of which could be mitigated with additional federal and state resources.

Derailments of oil trains have caused explosions in several states and Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded in the city of Lac-Megantic in July 2013.

In Washington, crude oil shipments went from zero in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013, and could reach nearly 3 billion gallons by the end of this year or in 2015, the report said.

As many as 19 mile-long trains carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Montana pass through the state weekly. Nearly 3 million people live in 93 cities and towns on or near these routes, posing potential public safety, health and environmental risks, the report said.

One train typically has about 100 rail cars and carries about 3 million gallons of oil. Some trains head south to Oregon and California without stopping to transfer oil in Washington. Others deliver oil to Washington facilities.

By 2020, the number of trains could grow to 137 a week if all proposed crude-by-rail terminals, including projects in Longview and Grays Harbor are built out and oil continues to be exported through the state, the report said.

Those proposed terminals could also bring more tanker and tug and barge traffic in the Columbia River and Grays Harbor area, as well as along the coast.

BP Cherry Point Refinery in Puget Sound is currently receiving Bakken crude oil deliveries from tug-barges from the Columbia River.

The report also raises concerns about diluted bitumen, which comes mostly from Alberta oil sands and has been shipped into the state for years. But shipments are increasing. Bitumen raises spill response challenges because it may sink or submerge in water if spilled, making recovery of the oil difficult, the report said.

The Department of Ecology, the Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division worked on the report.


    KPIX: State Senator Says Bay Area Not Prepared For Crude Oil Trains

    Repost from 5KPIX TV CBS SF Bay Area
    [Editor: apologies for the video’s commercial ad.  You can pass on choosing an ad – the video will begin if you just wait.  – RS]

    State Senator Says Bay Area Not Prepared For Crude Oil Trains

    Phil Matier talks with state senator Jerry Hill who believes that Bay Area emergency crews are not properly prepared to handle the hundreds of tanker trains bringing shale crude oil from the Dakotas to local refineries. (11/23/14)


      Lessons from a 2011 derailment: the 911 call, BNSF no-show, first responders, timelines

      Repost from Sightline Daily

      What Happened When a Hazardous Substance Train Derailed on a Puget Sound Beach

      True story from 2011 raises questions about railroad’s ability to manage oil trains.
      Eric de Place, November 21, 2014

      If you’ve ever wondered how an oil train derailment might go down on the shores of Puget Sound, it might look a bit like the winter night derailment in 2011 that spilled sodium hydroxide on a beach at Chambers Bay south of Tacoma. It was hardly the kind of disaster that has resulted from oil trains derailing, but it still makes for a rather instructive lesson in how these things happen.

      Sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye, is used as a chemical base in the production of pulp and paper, textiles, drain cleaners, and other products. (It’s also the major ingredient that makes lutefisk unpalatable.) It’s caustic, corrosive to metal and glass, and it can cause fairly serious burns. You want to be careful handling it but—notably unlike the volatile shale oil traveling daily on the very same rail line—it does not erupt into 300-foot-tall fireballs.

      If it had been an oil train, things could have been much, much worse.

      Chambers Bay derailment by WA Ecology_2

      What happened is this: around 8 pm on February 26, 2011, a north-bound freight train derailed, sideswiping a south-bound train that was carrying (among other things) four loaded tank cars of sodium hydroxide in a liquid solution. One of those cars was damaged in the collision and leaked a relatively modest 50 gallons onto the beach before response crews plugged the leak.

      At the time, of course, no one knew how serious the incident was—and things did not go smoothly that night. The 911 call went out at 8:02 and firefighters were responding by 8:10. At 8:31 the Pierce County Sheriff alerted the National Response Center, the agency that in turn notifies all the relevant federal and state agencies. The Department of Ecology learned of the accident at 8:52.

      By contrast, BNSF, owner of the railway and operator of the train—not to mention the nation’s leading carrier of volatile Bakken shale oil—did not contact emergency management authorities until 8:56. And then things got worse. As the government responders assembled—sheriff’s deputies, fire fighters, US Coast Guard officials, oil spill clean-up experts—they were unable to get the railway to respond to their requests for information, or even to show up at the fire department’s incident command post.

      By 11:00, three hours after the accident, the responders held their incident briefing to plan how to enter the site yet they still were unable to get BNSF officials to appear. According to Ecology’s official account, “local, state, and federal responders did not know who was participating on BNSF’s response team, their level of training nor their plan of action.”

      Chambers Bay derailment by WA Ecology_1

      Finally, at 11:45, almost four hours after the derailment and still without a line of communication to BNSF, local fire fighters moved into the scene. Not until 11:50 did a railway representative show up and at that point responders were finally able to establish reliable communication with the railroad. But it was almost too late: just as the fire fighters were entering the scene, BNSF began moving rail cars on the site, putting them directly into harm’s way.

      Local and state responders were eventually able to secure the site and clean up the material. Yet it took days to accomplish, during which time several high tides inundated the spill area. And the story wasn’t over: a few days later, on March 1, a contractor for the railway spilled another 100 gallons of sodium hydroxide when the equipment operators lost control of a damaged tank car they were removing from the shoreline.

      Chambers Bay derailment by WA Ecology_3

      For jeopardizing incident responders, and for failing to coordinate with state agencies as required under Washington law, Ecology fined BNSF $3,000. The state also sent the railway a bill for $6,370 to cover the response and clean up costs. (By way of comparison, BNSF regularly reports quarterly earnings in the billion-dollar range.)

      The Chambers Bay derailment should be seen as a cautionary tale because it all could have been much worse if the train had been loaded with 3 million gallons of Bakken shale oil, a typical quantity for the several oil trains that pass over that very same rail line several times a day. Not only might the oil explode catastrophically — as it has on at least four occasions recently — but it would almost certainly contaminate the Sound and beaches that the tracks run alongside. It’s worth noting too that the incident occurred directly adjacent to the Chambers Bay Golf Course, which will be hosting the 2015 US Open and a projected 235,000 fans.