REUTERS: Oregon derailment likely to reignite rail-by-oil safety concerns

Repost from Reuters

Oregon derailment likely to reignite rail-by-oil safety concerns

By Eric M. Johnson, Jun 3, 2016 9:12pm EDT 
Smoke and flames as multi-car oil train derails in Oregon (00:47)
Smoke and flames as multi-car oil train derails in Oregon (00:47)

A Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along Oregon’s scenic Columbia River gorge on Friday, forcing the closure of an interstate highway and the evacuation of a school in the first major rail accident involving crude in a year.

Union Pacific Corp, which owns the line, said 11 rail cars from a 96-car train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed about 70 miles (110 km) east of Portland, near the tiny town of Mosier. It said oil spilled from at least one rail car. There were no injuries.

The crude from North Dakota was purchased by TrailStone Inc’s U.S. Oil & Refining Co, bound for its refinery in Tacoma,Washington, about 200 miles northwest of the derailment, the company said.

Television footage showed smoke and flames along with overturned black tanker cars snaking across the tracks, which weave through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“I looked outside and there was black and white smoke blowing across the sky, and I could hear the flames,” said Mosier resident Dan Hoffman, 32, whose house is about 100 meters from the derailment site. “A sheriff’s official in an SUV told me to get the hell out.”

While rail shipments have dipped from more than 1 million barrels per day in 2014 as a result of the lengthy slump in oil prices, the first such crash in a year will likely reignite the debate over safety concerns surrounding transporting crude over rail.

“Seeing our beautiful Columbia River Gorge on fire today should be a wake-up call for federal and state agencies – underscoring the need to complete comprehensive environmental reviews of oil-by-rail in the Pacific Northwest,” said U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

Officials from the Washington state Department of Ecology said there was no sign of oil in the Columbia River or Rock Creek.


Since 2008, there have been at least 10 major oil-train derailments across the United States and Canada, including a disaster that killed 47 people in a Quebec town in July 2013.

The incident comes eight months after lawmakers extended a deadline until the end of 2018 for rail operators to implement advanced safety technology, known as positive train control, or PTC, which safety experts say can avoid derailments and other major accidents.

The measures included phasing out older tank cars, adding electronic braking systems and imposing speed limits, all meant to reduce the frequency and severity of oil train crashes.

The tank cars involved in Friday’s crash were CPC-1232 models, which elected officials have raised concerns about in the past even though they are an upgrade from older models considered less safe. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon last year asked federal officials to look into whether the newer cars were safe enough.

Rail operators such as Union Pacific are required under federal law to disclose crude rail movements to state officials to help prepare for emergencies. The rule was put in place after a string of fiery derailments.

In its latest disclosure with the state, Union Pacific said it moved light volumes of Bakken crude oil along its state network, which includes the Oregon line. In March, it transported six unit trains, which generally carry about 75,000 barrels each.

In Oregon, Union Pacific hazardous materials workers responded to the scene along with contractors packing firefighting foam and a boom for oil spill containment.

As emergency responders descended on the crash site, Interstate 84 was closed, students were evacuated from the nearby Mosier Community School, and residents were ordered to leave the area.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the Columbia Riverkeeper advocacy group, said the crash should raise concerns about Tesoro Corp’s proposed 360,000 barrels-per-day railport in Vancouver, Washington, which would be the country’s largest.

“We are very concerned about additional oil trains passing through our community because of their safety record, the risk of fires, of explosions, the risks of spills,” he said.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault, Jarrett Renshaw amd Devika Krishna Kumar in New York, Erwin Seba in Houston, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Eric M. Johnson in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)