Category Archives: Washington State

Oil tanker spill in English Bay (Vancouver BC) – wake-up call for port…and for us all

Repost from CBC News
[Editor: Spokesperson John Hill has publicly stated that Valero Benicia Refinery shipped Bakken crude on a barge through our beautiful Carquinez Strait.  Presumably this barge came from the Pacific Northwest.  Canadian dilbit and North Dakota Bakken crude are increasingly making their way to the Pacific, either for refining or for transfer to ships bound for more southerly destinations.  Marine transport is clearly an expanding threat for bringing dangerous and dirty North American crude to Northern and Southern California.  English Bay in Vancouver this year; is San Francisco Bay next?  Oh, and imagine if you will: volatile Bakken crude spilled and burning in our waters.  – RS]

Toxic fuel spill in English Bay is wake-up call for port, says marine expert

Critics of pipeline expansion say response proves Vancouver isn’t ready for heavy tanker traffic
By Jason Proctor, Apr 10, 2015 9:10 AM PT
Critics say the response to an oil spill in English Bay raises serious questions about proposed pipeline expansion increasing tanker traffic.
Critics say the response to an oil spill in English Bay raises serious questions about proposed pipeline expansion increasing tanker traffic. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Joe Spears calls it a wake-up call.

An international shipping expert, Spears says Canada is supposed to be a world leader at dealing with maritime emergencies.

But he says the response to an oil spill into Vancouver’s English Bay on Thursday [April 9, 2015] was anything but world class.

“We’ve got to do better,” he said.

“We’re Canada’s largest port. We’ve lost our way.”

Expansion fears

Spears joined a chorus of critics who said the spill reinforces fears about proposed pipeline expansion, which could bring increased oil tanker traffic into the B.C.’s coastal waters.

The City of Vancouver has repeatedly questioned the potential impact of a proposal by Kinder Morgan to twin the TransMountain pipeline that carries oil to Burrard Inlet.

And the province has set a “world-leading marine oil spill response” as one of five requirements for the approval of any heavy pipeline proposal.

But even as critics pointed to perceived problems, Coast guard assistant commissioner Roger Girouard claimed the response was textbook.

Kinder Morgan protest
Opponents of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion fear the plan will increase the chance of oil spills in Burrard Inlet. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

“From where I sit, from an operational perspective, this has gone in accordance with the doctrine,” Girouard said.

“Port Metro is the largest port in Canada. They have a very solid team. They saw a problem, they called in the partners and we’ve put together a unified command centre to be able to take a look at this and do it the right way.”

‘More than words’

But Spears says responders should have tracked the movement of the spill with buoys and drones within minutes of becoming aware of oil on the water.

He also questions a perceived lack of communications that saw City of Vancouver officials alerted to the spill 13 hours after Port Metro Vancouver first learned about it at 5 p.m. PT Wednesday.

“To make a world-class response means more than words,” said Spears.

“We’ve got to bring all the players together. This is a glimpse of the future. If we can’t handle a small bunkering spill, how are we going to deal with a major tanker?”

Vancouver City Coun. Geoff Meggs raised similar concerns about the failure to notify the city immediately.

Spencer Chandra Herbert
B.C. NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, Official Opposition environment critic, says citizens were unaware of the dangers posed by the oil spill in English Bay. (CBC)

“What may seem like a small spill to an offshore mariner is very, very significant to the people of Vancouver. These are some of our most precious public assets,” he said.

“So it’s in that context that we probably need to have a further conversation, so that they understand what’s important to us.”

‘It could have been better’

The NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert, the Official Opposition’s environment critic, said citizens should be part of that discussion.

The MLA for the Vancouver-West End/Coal Harbour represents a riding that sits directly in the path of the spill.

“People were out there last night, playing with their dogs, having fun in the water. Meanwhile, we were having bunker fuel oil — they still can’t tell us what it is — in our water, potentially causing harm,” he said.

“I think it’s a huge wake-up call.”

Girouard acknowledged the public’s concerns.

“In an absolute sense, it could have been better,” he said.

“One of the challenges with this many jurisdictions and partners is, ‘Who’s got what piece?’, and it took us a little while to get through that.”

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Washington State: two competing bills to strengthen oil train safety

Repost from Crosscut.com / Under The Dome, Seattle WA

Oil train safety draws quick attention in Olympia

A Republican proposal has already gotten a hearing, and a Democratic one is ready to roll.

By John Stang, January 15, 2015
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

Two competing oil-train safety bills have come into quick play in the Washington Senate.

A Republican measure, proposed by Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, received a hearing on Thursday before the Senate Environment, Energy & Telecommunications Committee, which he chairs. Also on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island and Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island introduced a bill to cover what Gov. Jay Inslee wants to do.

A preliminary Washington Department of Ecology study, released late last year, said that rapid increases in the amount of oil moving by rail in the state require new measures to protect the public and the environment.

Both bills increase per-barrel oil taxes to cover emergency response and planning expenses. Rolfes’ bill would impose charges on both crude and refined oil, while Ericksen’s addresses solely crude oil. Rolfes’ bill requires advance notice to the state of crude and refined oil going by rail, pipe or ship. Ericksen’s bill does not have those provisions.

Ericksen’s bill pays considerable attention to mapping out oil-emergency response plans by region across the state. And the Ericksen measure has more detailed provisions about providing state grants to emergency-service responders.

Thursday’s hearing had railroad, port and oil representatives supporting Ericksen’s bill, while environmental groups contended it did not go far enough.

Bruce Swisher of the Sierra Club argued that the bills must make information about upcoming oil train shipments available to the public as well as emergency departments. “The communities, not just the first responders, need transparency about what goes through their communities,” Swisher said.

Johan Hellman, representing the BNSF Railroad, said the company spent $125 million on track and crossing upgrades in Washington in 2013 and another $235 million in 2014. The railroad has also trained roughly 4,000 first responders in Washington on dealing with train derailments, he said.

In a statement, Ericksen said, “We’re trying to identify the gaps in existing programs and fill them.”

In 2013 and 2014, the United States had four oil train accidents that produced fires — one in North Dakota, one in West Virginia and two in New England. Closer to home, three 29,200-gallon oil cars on a slow-moving train derailed without any spills or fire beneath Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge last July. Looming over this entire issue is a July 2013 oil train explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

The report by experts hired by the state Ecology Department mapped out the oil transportation situation in Washington and the United States. Nationally, the number of rail cars transporting crude oil grew from 9,500 in 2008 to 415,000 carloads in 2013. In 2013, 8.4 percent of oil arriving at Washington’s five refineries came by rail, although the report indicates that the volume of oil shipped by rail to the refineries here was insignificant until 2011.

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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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