Washington governor nixes Vancouver oil train terminal
Updated Jan 29, 5:30 PM; Posted Jan 29, 5:28 PM
By Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian/OregonLive
Washington’s governor on Monday put a presumed end to a proposed oil-by-rail export terminal at the Port of Vancouver, notifying state regulators that he agreed with their unanimous decision to reject the controversial project.
The state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted in November to recommend that Gov. Jay Inslee deny the Tesoro-Savage proposal. In a letter announcing his decision, Inslee said he found ample support in the record for the council’s decision that the project was wrong for the proposed site, including risks posed by a large earthquake, an oil spill or an explosion or fire at the facility.
Inslee said the facility posed potentially catastrophic risks to the public and there was no way to mitigate the impacts that that an oil spill would have on water quality, wetlands, fish and wildlife.
“The Council found that emergency responders are unlikely to be able to successfully respond to a major incident at the facility,” Inslee wrote.
Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of the Tesoro Corp, now known as Andeavor, and Savage Co.s, has 30 days to appeal the governor’s decision in Thurston County Superior Court. A spokesman for Savage said the company would have a statement, but had not issued one yet.
The companies had proposed spending $210 million on a terminal at Port of Vancouver to transfer 360,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude from trains onto marine vessels for shipment to West Coast refineries. Supporters pointed to the jobs and property taxes that would be generated by the facility.
Dan Serres, conservation director for the advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper, said the proposal attracted unprecedented opposition from a cross-section of businesses, environmental groups and citizens. And while the company could appeal the decision, Serres said they’d be doing so without a lease as the Port of Vancouver has already signaled its intent to seek other options as of March 31.
“The idea of putting five loaded oil trains a day down the Columbia River Gorge was irresponsible, and after Mosier, that became clear,” said Serres, referring to the fiery derailment of an oil train near the town of Mosier in June 2016. “We’re just overjoyed to see them go away. This one’s over.”
3 former MMA rail workers acquitted in Lac-Mégantic disaster trial
Locomotive engineer and 2 others found not guilty of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths
Alison Brunette · CBC News · 19 January 2018
Jurors have acquitted the three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway employees charged with criminal negligence causing death in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.
Locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, were all charged after the derailment of a runaway fuel train early on July 6, 2013. Several tankers, carrying highly volatile crude oil exploded, turning downtown Lac-Mégantic into an inferno and killing 47 people.
There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when the verdict was delivered early Friday afternoon.
Labrie couldn’t hold back tears as he described his relief. He said that his thoughts are with the community of Lac-Mégantic.
“I would like to say the people of Lac-Mégantic, what they went through, they showed a huge amount of courage,” he said.
“I wasn’t intending to cry. But I can tell you it was difficult — it was a long process.”
The eight men and four women on the jury have been deliberating since Thursday morning, Jan. 11, at the Sherbrooke, Que., courthouse, after a marathon trial which began last September.
The jurors have endured countless hours of technical testimony from train experts, heard dramatic audio recordings of emergency workers and railway employees from the night of the explosions, and listened to other former MMA employees called as Crown witnesses describe a work environment with little regard for safety standards and no budget for training.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas thanked the jury members for their work, telling them that the case wasn’t easy.
“You are the most enthusiastic jury I have ever seen,” he said.
Last, ill-fated journey
Harding, who pitched in on the night of the disaster, helping emergency responders detach the fuel cars that hadn’t exploded, was the driver of the ill-fated fuel train.
He picked up the 73-tanker car train in Farnham, Que., 60 kilometres southeast of Montreal, on the afternoon of July 5, 2013.
Late that evening, he left the train idling on the tracks in the village of Nantes, 13 kilometres west of Lac-Mégantic, where it was to be picked up by an American crew the following day.
During the three-month trial, the court heard how a fire broke out in the smokestack of that locomotive shortly after Harding left it unattended.
Firefighters arrived and extinguished the fire, shutting down the locomotive’s engine and breakers, which disabled the air brakes that were securing the train. Jurors heard that less than an hour later, the runaway train barrelled down the tracks, derailing in downtown Lac-Mégantic. The resulting explosions engulfed the town in flames.
Several of the Crown’s 31 witnesses described Harding as an experienced, knowledgeable and helpful co-worker, which the Crown alluded to in closing arguments.
“Despite all comments on Harding, on July 5, he failed to do his job,” prosecutor Sacha Blais told the jury.
“A careful engineer would have foreseen the danger.”
Much of the Crown’s testimony revolved around the seven handbrakes Harding applied to the train, whether the engineer tested them and how many would have been sufficient to secure the train properly.
In closing arguments, Harding’s lawyer, Charles Shearson, countered that the engineer followed the MMA’s general operating instructions.
Shearson listed a number of other factors that contributed to the derailment, including the safety of one-man crews and MMA’s failure to conduct a risk assessment on the consequences of parking a heavy fuel train on a slope at Nantes. The Transportation Safety Board’s report identified the rail line between Nantes and Lac-Mégantic as the second steepest grade of any stretch of track in Canada.
Accused waived right to mount defence
Harding, as well as the other two accused, waived their right to mount a formal defence to the charges.
Labrie, the rail traffic controller on duty that night, was on shift 200 kilometres away in Farnham, relying on information being provided to him by telephone, his lawyer, Guy Poupart, reminded the jury in closing arguments.
Poupart said the Crown failed to “demonstrate in any way that a rail traffic controller placed in the same position as Labrie and given the same information, would have acted any differently.”
Demaître, MMA’s senior manager in Quebec, was at home near Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and on call on the night of the disaster. The Crown argued he had been negligent, ignoring complaints about the lead locomotive’s mechanical defects.
Oil Train Safety Rules Getting Rolled Back By Trump Adminstration
By Courtney Flatt, December 6, 2017
The Trump administration is rolling back a requirement for trains carrying highly explosive liquids — like the oil trains that run through the Columbia River Gorge en route to Northwest refineries.
The 2015 rule was supposed to make these hazardous trains more safe, following a number of derailments. But that was under President Obama, Now, President Trump’s Department of Transportation says railroads with trains carrying highly flammable liquids will not have to update their braking systems.
Obama-era regulations required railroad companies to install electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021. Those new systems were supposed to help prevent fiery crashes, like last year’s derailment in Mosier, Oregon. ECP brakes are supposed to brake faster because they signal instantaneously throughout the train.
The current industry-standard air brake technology has been in use for more than a century and had been involved in the deadly Lac Megantic derailment in 2013.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley criticized the decision.
“Oil trains are rolling explosion hazards, and as we’ve seen all too many times—and all too recently in Mosier—it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ oil train derailments will occur. Degrading oil train safety requirements is a huge step backward and one that puts our land, homes, and lives at risk,” Merkley said in a statement.
Industry groups applauded the decision. Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, called the rollback a “rational decision.”
“While we support the use of improved safety technologies, (electronically controlled pneumatic) isn’t an improvement on other technologies currently in use, and would have imposed substantial costs to shippers,” Thompson said in a news release.
Conservation groups in the Northwest said the rollback was frustrating, but unsurprising. Dan Serres is the conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper.
“We’re definitely frustrated that the Trump administration is weakening standards that are not strong enough to begin with,” Serres said. “We saw that with the Moiser derailment, potentially if there was a better braking system in place, we wouldn’t have seen so many cars come off the tracks.”
Serres said his group is now more committed to stopping oil terminal construction in the Northwest, if the federal government isn’t “holding the rail industry’s feet to the fire to improve the safety of these shipments.”