Repost from KomoNews.com [Editor: Click on the photo below (or here) to go to an excellent tv video news report on the derailment. – RS]
Oil train derails under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge
By Associated Press and KOMO Staff Published: Jul 24, 2014
SEATTLE (AP) – Nothing spilled when three tanker cars in an oil train from North Dakota derailed at a rail yard early Thursday, but it alarmed environmentalists.
“This is a warning of how dangerous this could be,” said Kerry McHugh, communications director for the Washington Environmental Council.
She noted the train derailed near Puget Sound, under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge, the main connection to one of the city’s neighborhoods.
“The potential for environmental damage, economic damage and the disruption of people’s lives is huge,” she said.
The train with 100 tanker cars of Bakken crude oil was heading for a refinery at Anacortes and pulling out of the Interbay rail yard at 5 mph when five cars derailed, said Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas.
They included one of the locomotives, a buffer car loaded with sand and three tankers. The locomotive, buffer car and one tanker remained upright. Two of the tankers tilted. One leaning at a 45-degree angle had to be pumped out and taken elsewhere for repairs, Melonas said.
No one was injured in the accident and a railroad hazardous material crew was on the scene in 5 minutes, he said.
The Seattle accident occurred on the same day the Corps of Engineers is holding a hearing in Seattle on a draft environmental statement for a pier that BP built at its Cherry Point refinery north of Bellingham to handle oil tankers and oil trains. Environmental groups planned a rally before the hearing.
“There’s a lot of risk associated with oil trains and right now we’re not prepared to deal with them,” McHugh said.
Trains carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota have been supplying Washington refineries at Tacoma, Anacortes and near Bellingham. Oil train export terminals are proposed at Vancouver and Grays Harbor on the Washington coast.
More people became aware of oil train dangers when a runaway train exploded in 2013 in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cited safety and environmental risks in June when he directed state agencies to evaluate oil transport in Washington.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx supporting a petition filed by environmental groups seeking an emergency ban on shipments of Bakken and other highly flammable crude oil in old style tankers known as DOT-111 cars.
“The city of Seattle is deeply concerned about the threat to life, safety and the environment of potential spills and fires from the transport of petroleum by rail,” the letter said.
The tankers involved in the Seattle accident hold about 27,000 gallons of oil and are a newer design with enhanced safeguards.
“The cars performed as designed,” Melonas said. “There was no release of product.”
It was the first incident in the state involving an oil train, he said.
“We have an outstanding safety record, and derailments have declined in Washington state over 50 percent on BNSF main lines in the past decade,” he said.
The accident also alarmed Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation on the Washington coast and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
“It was sheer luck that the cars, carrying 100 loads of Bakken crude oil, didn’t spill or even catch fire. If that had occurred, the chances are there would have been tragic loss. If fire had occurred, the odds are it would have burned out of control for days and oil would have made its way into Puget Sound. People need to know that every time an oil train travels by this is the risk that is being taken,” she said.
Trains continued to move through the area on other tracks.
Crews expect to have the derailment track repaired and reopened by midnight Thursday, Melonas said.
The Seattle Fire Department responded but left when it determined there was no spill, said spokesman Kyle Moore.
Repost from Time Magazine [Editor: The message is getting out far and wide with this mainstream publication’s observance of the one-year anniversary of the killer wreck in Lac-Mégantic. An intensely personal account of what it is like to live near these rolling “bomb trains.” – RS]
A Year After a Deadly Disaster, Fears Grow About the Danger of Crude Oil Shipped By Rail
Sebastien Malo, July 10, 2014
When 21-year-old mother Kahdejah Johnson was told two years ago that she’d secured a spot at the Ezra Prentice Homes, a quiet housing project in Albany, she felt confident she’d found a stable home to raise her newborn son. With its manicured lawns and tidy beige row houses, the Ezra Prentice Homes are a far cry from the crumbling housing projects of large cities. “When people come into town they’re like ‘These are your projects? These are condos!’” says Johnson.
But today, Johnson is losing sleep over how close her house is to railroad tracks congested, day and night, with tanker cars carrying crude oil, visible just outside her bedroom window. The fear of an accident is so great that Johnson has taken to evacuating her apartment some nights, to spend the night at her mother’s home, further from the tracks. “Now I’m afraid to be in my own home,” she says. “Do you know how fast we could die here?”
Albany is one of a growing number of cities where residents like Johnson fear the devastating consequences of accidents involving railcars filled with crude oil. They have reason to fear—on July 6, 2013, a train carrying oil derailed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, causing an explosion that destroyed more than 30 buildings and killed more than 40 people. This past Sunday, Johnson and other Albany residents held a vigil to commemorate the Lac-Megantic derailment—and draw attention to the growing opposition to transporting crude oil by rail
“Jo-Annie Lapointe, Melissa Roy, Maxime Dubois, Joanie Turmel,” participants in the vigil intoned into a microphone, naming Lac-Megantic residents killed in the explosions. In a line, they held portraits of each of the deceased and read their names, pinning the pictures to a black metal fence. “You may not say that they lived right next door to you, but they were your neighbors,” said Pastor McKinley Johnson, who officiated part of the ceremony. “You may not say that you understand all the language, but they’re your sister and your brother.”
As in Lac-Megantic, oil tankers containing highly flammable crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana roll right through their residential areas. Rows of train-cars filled with crude oil often stand idle for hours on the tracks that hug the curves of the housing project, so tightly only 15 feet at most separate the two in some areas. “Once I found out that these are the same tanks that were in Canada, I was like ‘Oh my God, someone pray for us, We’re in danger’,” Johnson said.
This fear is a consequence of the unconventional oil boom in states like North Dakota, where for the last several years producers have been using hydrofracking techniques to pump oil previously locked in underground shale rock. The new oil fields have helped America’s oil production rise to a 28-year high. But that crude oil has to get to refineries, most of which are located in coastal cities—and much of that oil is moving by rail. Nationally, transport of crude oil by train has jumped 45-fold between 2008 and 2013, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
While the U.S. has yet to experience a rail catastrophe on the scale of Lac-Megantic, the country has had its share of close calls. The National Transportation Safety Board counts five “significant accidents” of trains containing crude oil in the United States in the past year alone. The latest, in Lynchburg, Virginia, saw a train carrying crude Bakken oil derail and burst into flames in the town’s center this April, producing black plumes of smoke and billows of flames taller than buildings nearby. The crude oil also spilled into the James River, though one was injured.
The worrying trend has opened a new front to the national environmental debate. Some 40 cities and towns across the country scheduled similar events to mark Lac-Megantic’s one-year anniversary. Many of the rallies will take place in the usual hotbeds of environmental activism —in places like Seattle and Portland—but also in blue-collar tows like Philadelphia and Detroit, where activists will voice demands ranging from a moratorium on oil-trains traffic to increased safety controls.
But the problem has also presented environmentalists with a conundrum. One of the factors behind the rapid rise of railroad shipment of crude oil has been the shortage of oil pipelines, which could move greater quantities of oil from landlocked states to coastal refineries. Front and center to this debate is the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project, which would connect the oil sands of western Canada to the Gulf Coast, but which President Obama has yet to approve—in part because of objections raised by environmentalists, who fear the potential for a spill.
Fewer pipelines has meant more oil moved via rail. “If Keystone had been built we wouldn’t be moving nearly the volume of oil that we’re moving by rail,” said Charles Ebinger, the director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
That has exposed the Keystone’s opponents to criticism that by standing in the way of pipeline projects, they are raising the risk of rail accidents. Though hazardous material like crude oil makes its way safely via rail 99.998 percent of the time, according to the Association of American Railroads, a plethora of research suggests that pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents, personal injuries and fatalities than rail. That includes an authoritative environmental review the State Department released last January, which concluded that “there is… a greater potential for injuries and fatalities associated with rail transport relative to pipelines.”
Still, environmentalists like Ethan Buckner of ForestEthics, the group coordinating the string of events to commemorate the Lac-Megantic tragedy, reject that dichotomy. “The industry is trying to present Americans with a false choice between pipelines and rails,” he says. “We want to choose clean energy.”
Back in Albany, the vigil was deemed a success, drawing a crowd of about a hundred. But Kahdejah Johnson wasn’t among them. Why not? Her fear, she said, got the best of her. “Honestly, I don’t really hang by my house,” she said. “I don’t like to be in that area if I don’t have to be there.” She is now on a waiting list to be transferred to another development—something she’s told could take up to four years. In the meantime, the trains will keep rolling.