Tag Archives: King County WA

Washington Governor Inslee says state will act on oil trains

Repost from The Olympian, Olympia Washington

Inslee says state will act on oil trains

By Andy Hobbs, November 21, 2014
Representatives from Washington and Oregon gather at Olympia City Hall for the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance summit on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. TONY OVERMAN

The number of oil trains running across Washington is unacceptable, and the Legislature will consider bills in the upcoming session that mandate advance notification of oil shipments by rail as well as more funding for railroad crossings and emergency response training, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.

King County Executive Dow Constantine added that oil companies are raking in profits while “the rest of us are picking up the costs.”

“Those who are profiting should shoulder the financial burden,” Constantine said.

They were speaking to the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance that met Friday at Olympia City Hall to address the surge of oil and coal trains passing through Washington.

The alliance is a coalition of local, state and tribal leaders from the Northwest who say the trains threaten the environment, economy and public safety.

As shipments of oil increase in the Puget Sound region, so does the likelihood for spills and accidents. The Department of Ecology reports that 19 fully loaded oil trains crisscross the state every week, with the number expected to reach 59 oil trains if current refinery proposals are approved. Each train hauls about 3 million gallons of crude oil in 100 tanker cars. Between 11 and 16 trains pass through rural and suburban areas of Thurston and Pierce counties every week, according to reports from BNSF Railway.

Participants in Friday’s meeting included elected officials from across the state along with Oregon and Canada.

“It is clear that we have to take significant action including being better prepared to handle an oil train explosion or large scale spill,” Inslee said.

Although the federal government is the main regulator of the railroads, Inslee said there are some actions the state can take now, such as lowering speed limits of the trains.

“We don’t want vehicles speeding through school zones, and we shouldn’t let oil trains speed through Washington cities,” said Inslee, noting that changes in state permits are at least a year away.

Friday’s meeting included a detailed report on the coal industry by Tom Sanzillo, finance director of the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. Sanzillo encouraged states and cities to keep putting pressure on the coal industry, which has seen demand and prices decline worldwide in the past few years.

“The U.S. coal industry is shrinking,” said Sanzillo, adding that the industry needs “robust growth” to meet its potential and compete in the global market despite record demand for coal by nations like China. “Hooking your wagon to the coal industry is not a particularly promising outlook right now.”

At the local level, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the City Council will seek a resolution next week to add Olympia to the list of cities that oppose the increase in crude oil transport.

“We are at a crossroads,” Buxbaum said Friday. “We could see up to 60 trains a day and 4,000 supertankers in our waters.”

As for the coal issue, Buxbaum recently co-authored a guest column titled “You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply” that ran Nov. 19 in The Seattle Times. Also signing the article were Bainbridge Island Mayor Anne Blair and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett, and all three mayors’ respective city councils endorsed it.

The article urges Puget Sound Energy to take immediate action and plan for a “post-coal future.” About one-third of PSE’s power supply comes from coal that’s shipped from out of state, according to the article. The mayors also cite Gov. Inslee’s recent executive order to reduce pollution and transition away from coal power.

“The bottom line is that we don’t need coal,” the article states. “The potential is there for Washington to meet its energy needs with efficiency programs, wind, solar and other technologies. We just need to rise to the occasion.”

 

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    Tacoma City Councilman and County Executive form Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, call for action

    Repost from The News Tribune, Tacoma WA

    Pierce County gets all risks, no rewards for surging oil train traffic

    By Ryan Mello and Dow Constantine, October 24, 2014
    Rail Delays
    An oil-tank train with crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota travels near Staples, Minnesota, in April. MIKE CRONIN — The Associated Press file

    As this editorial page has noted, Washington has seen a stunning increase in the amount of Bakken crude oil transported on our railroads, to an estimated 2.87 billion gallons each year. Much of that highly flammable oil rolls across the central Puget Sound region, through downtown Tacoma and past Steilacoom in aging tank cars.

    The surge in train traffic has created an unprecedented risk to our people, our economy, our traffic and our environment. Our communities assume all of the risks while big oil companies get all of the rewards.

    There’s the immediate risk to public safety when flammable fuel passes through heavily populated areas like Tacoma and Seattle and past our neighborhoods, schools and parks. Since July 2013, there have been nine serious train derailments across North America – more than we experienced during the past four decades combined. An oil-train explosion last year in Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people and wiped out half a downtown area.

    There’s also the increased risk of oil spills contaminating Puget Sound and undermining the progress we’ve made in waterfront development and cleaning up the Foss Waterway. It’s a scenario we saw earlier this year when an oil train spilled more than 20,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River just outside Lynchburg, Virginia.

    We work hard to ensure that our first responders have the equipment and training they need to respond to oil-train derailments, spills and fires. But we need state and federal action to prevent these potentially life-threatening tragedies from occurring in the first place.

    That is why we brought together more than 100 other elected leaders from across the Northwest and British Columbia to form the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. It’s a broad coalition of local leaders from urban and rural areas who share a mission to better understand the potential safety and economic impacts from oil and coal trains, and call for stronger safety standards.

    Having multiple mile-long trains – each carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil – roll through Pierce and King counties snarls our traffic and makes it more difficult for our emergency personnel to respond to calls. The proposed increase in oil traffic would also harm our local businesses, manufacturers and farmers who rely on our limited rail capacity to transport their goods to overseas markets.

    Displacing Washington state agriculture and manufactured products that create jobs to make way for crude oil would benefit only oil companies.

    Perhaps what’s most concerning is that there is the potential for all of these risks and impacts to substantially increase over the next six years if proposed facilities are built along the Pacific coast.

    The Department of Ecology estimates that the amount of crude oil that comes through our state could triple – to nearly 9 billion gallons each year – by 2020. The number of fully loaded oil trains that cross our state each week could go from 19 to more than 100 within the next few years.

    That’s why we applaud Gov. Jay Inslee for fast-tracking the state’s Marine and Rail Oil Transportation study and the Department of Ecology for hosting a public meeting Thursday in Olympia (see box). This study shines a light on the risks and costs to our communities, and makes recommendations to strengthen disclosure of hazards and emergency preparedness.

    We urge our state lawmakers to act swiftly on these recommendations, and enact provisions that maintain public safety. The costs to protect our communities and prevent delays in rail crossings should fall to the oil industry and not local governments.

    Our long-term goal is to establish the Northwest as a global exporter of clean energy. In the meantime, we will work together to ensure that oil and coal companies don’t take up our limited rail space, put our communities at risk and harm our local economy.

    Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello and King County Executive Dow Constantine are members of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance.
    Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/24/3448437_pierce-county-gets-all-risks-no.html?sp=/99/447/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

     

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      King Co., Washington worriedly preps for oil train fire

      Repost from Crosscut – News of the Great Nearby, Seattle, WA
      [Editor: – Emergency training is going on all across North America.  Two examples: see Missouri firefighters train to handle fires, and Norfolk Southern Brings 40 Emergency Responders from Nine States to World-class Training Center for Crude-by-Rail Safety Class, not including California.  Where are the stories about training of Northern California emergency responders?  – RS]

      King County worriedly preps for oil train fire

      Executive Dow Constantine says a training exercise helps but the region needs a reduction or elimination of the dangerous trains.
      August 7, 2014
      Tank cars hours after they derailed under the Magnolia Bridge in Interbay.
      Tank cars hours after they derailed under the Magnolia Bridge in Interbay. Bill Lucia

      Five rail cars carrying petroleum crude oil derail and catch fire near Boeing Field, about five miles south of downtown Seattle. That was the scenario during a tabletop exercise King County held Tuesday.

      The planning exercise took place less than two weeks after three tank cars carrying highly flammable crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. That incident was relatively benign. None of the cars leaked or caught fire. The mock scenario discussed on Tuesday was designed to be far more precarious.

      “This is an emerging public safety threat,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine at a press conference on Wednesday. “And we need to have our emergency preparedness folks really up to speed on it and well-coordinated. And that’s what yesterday’s exercise was all about.”

      The exercise highlighted some of the complications responders might face when dealing with burning tank cars of crude oil, such as monitoring toxic smoke, transporting evacuated people and delivering information to the public.

      Between eight and 13 trains operated by BNSF Railway Co. pass through King County each week carrying crude oil, according to information the railroad released in June to the Washington Military Department.

      A local fire chief involved in the exercise acknowledged on Wednesday that responders would most likely have to let some of the fuel burn off if one of those trains crashed and five tank cars were ablaze.

      The cars commonly used to transport petroleum crude oil have a capacity of about 30,000 gallons apiece. In past wrecks, un-breached cars, heated by surrounding flames, have ruptured in dramatic explosions.

      “We’ll want to probably suppress the fire enough to assess the integrity and exposure to the other tank cars. We’d certainly want to minimize life risks,” said Mark Chubb, Fire Chief of King County Fire District 20.

      “It’s unusual for all five tank cars to breach,” he also said.

      Battling flames would not be the only problem that burning tank cars of crude oil would present for responders.

      “We have to be mindful of the impact of the smoke column on aviation,” Chubb said. He also noted that a large oil train fire could create problems on Interstate 5, even if the smoke and flames do not reach the highway. “The distraction of an event of this scale,” he said, “is going to be highly disruptive.”

      Chubb added: “After you grapple with the fact that it’s a fire and it’s going to go on a while, it’s all about logistics.”

      Walt Hubbard, director the King County Office of Emergency Management, viewed Tuesday’s exercise as helpful, because it got people from different agencies together in the same place, talking about how they would coordinate and communicate if there were a serious crude oil train accident.

      In addition to emergency responders, staff from local transportation and public health departments attended, as did officials from federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.

      Representatives from BNSF were also on hand. The company operated the train that derailed in Interbay.

      For Hubbard, having the railroad representatives at the exercise was important.

      “We want to keep them engaged,” he said. Hubbard specifically pointed to dialogue that took place between BNSF representatives and fire officials about what kinds of equipment and people the railroad could deploy after an accident.

      “That was a very good exchange,” he said.

      Another topic that came up during the exercise was evacuations. If a rail car of crude oil is on fire, U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines recommend that responders consider evacuating people within a half-mile of the accident scene.

      The risk of an explosion would be one immediate reason to evacuate the area around the fire. But Chubb, the King County fire chief, also noted that toxic smoke is a hazard, and said that responders would consult with officials from public health agencies and the EPA when considering whether to tell people to leave the area.

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