Tag Archives: Washington Department of Ecology

Washington Gov. Inslee eyeing a tax on oil shipments arriving by rail

Repost from Crosscut.com, Seattle, WA

Inslee is eyeing a tax on oil shipments arriving by rail

His measure could also target pipeline shipments.
By John Stang, December 6, 2014
Tanker cars can carry oil or LPG.
Tanker cars can carry oil or LPG. Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy

The Inslee administration’s leaders expect to introduce a bill to extend Washington’s 5-cents-a-barrel oil tax to pipelines and railroad oil cars.

Currently, the tax on the 42-gallon barrels applies only to oil arriving in Washington by ship. Dale Jensen, director of the Washington Department of Ecology’s oil spill program, briefed the House Environment Committee on the matter Friday.

Officials are also considering the possibility of increasing the current 5-cents-a-barrel tax on oil arriving in the state. Part of the money goes to oil spill prevention and response programs across the state. The administration has not yet calculated how much money will be needed in upcoming years, meaning it has also not decided yet whether to increase the five-cents tax or keep it intact, Jensen said.

Extending the tax to oil railcars and pipelines reflects the shrinking of the amount of oil arriving in Washington by ship, while pipeline traffic and rail oil traffic are increasing, Jensen said.

In 2003, 91 percent of the oil going to Washington’s refineries came by ship, with 9 percent arriving by pipeline, and none arriving by rail. In 2013, 67.4 percent arrived in Washington by ship, 24.2 percent by pipeline and 8.4 percent by railroad.

A typical tanker railcar holds 29,200 gallons. Washington’s five refineries process roughly 24.3 million gallons of crude oil a day, and have the capacity of processing 26.5 million gallons daily. At 42 gallons per barrel, that translates to approximately $34.75 in tax per tanker car or roughly $28,900 per day for the amount of imported oil to be refined in Washington.

In the 2014 legislative sessions, Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina — who retired this year and was the leader of the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus at that time — introduced a bipartisan bill to extend the oil tax to railroad oil cars, but not pipelines. With support from both parties, the Senate Ways & Means Committee recommended passage on March 10. But that bill did not make it to a full floor vote by the time the 2014 session ended on March 13.

Frank Holmes, representing the Western States Petroleum Association, said the organization supported Tom’s 2014 bill, which the association membership believed accurately reflected Washington’s oil traffic shifting from ship to rail. However, the association opposes installing the tax on pipeline oil. Holmes said Washington’s pipelines have had an excellent safety record during the past 50 years.

All this unfolds as Gov. Jay Inslee is digesting a draft state report on factors to consider on designing legislation to improve oil train safety in Washington. In the Legislature’s 2014 session, Democrats and Republicans introduced somewhat similar oil train emergency prevention and response bills, including requirements that oil companies and railroads provide advance information on each oil train to emergency agencies. But the two sides could not get past one major point. The Democrats wanted to make the volumes and chemical compositions of the oil in each upcoming train available to the public. The Republicans were against that provision, arguing it would expose proprietary corporate secrets.

Jensen speculated that Inslee may push for full public disclosure of the oil train information.


Washington State report on oil train safety: new risks, more to do

Repost from BismarckTribune.com, Bakken Breakout

Study: more to do as oil trains pose new risks

December 02, 2014, PHUONG LE, Associated Press

SEATTLE — The spike in crude oil shipments by rail in Washington is creating new potential risks and will require increased safety measures and improved oil spill response and prevention, according to a state study delivered to lawmakers.

Even as more trains carry volatile shipments of crude oil into the state, nearly 60 percent of first responders said they don’t have sufficient training or resources to handle a train derailment accompanied by a fire.

The draft report delivered on Monday makes a dozen key recommendations to the Legislature for the upcoming two-year budget, including more training for first responders, more railroad inspectors and ensuring that those who transport oil can pay for cleanup.

Some actions don’t require money, but the others could total more than $14 million.

The report also outlines the environmental and safety risks from oil transport, many of which could be mitigated with additional federal and state resources.

Derailments of oil trains have caused explosions in several states and Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded in the city of Lac-Megantic in July 2013.

In Washington, crude oil shipments went from zero in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013, and could reach nearly 3 billion gallons by the end of this year or in 2015, the report said.

As many as 19 mile-long trains carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Montana pass through the state weekly. Nearly 3 million people live in 93 cities and towns on or near these routes, posing potential public safety, health and environmental risks, the report said.

One train typically has about 100 rail cars and carries about 3 million gallons of oil. Some trains head south to Oregon and California without stopping to transfer oil in Washington. Others deliver oil to Washington facilities.

By 2020, the number of trains could grow to 137 a week if all proposed crude-by-rail terminals, including projects in Longview and Grays Harbor are built out and oil continues to be exported through the state, the report said.

Those proposed terminals could also bring more tanker and tug and barge traffic in the Columbia River and Grays Harbor area, as well as along the coast.

BP Cherry Point Refinery in Puget Sound is currently receiving Bakken crude oil deliveries from tug-barges from the Columbia River.

The report also raises concerns about diluted bitumen, which comes mostly from Alberta oil sands and has been shipped into the state for years. But shipments are increasing. Bitumen raises spill response challenges because it may sink or submerge in water if spilled, making recovery of the oil difficult, the report said.

The Department of Ecology, the Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division worked on the report.

Washington State recommends 40 measures to improve oil train safety

Repost from TDN.com, Longview, WA

Ecology report details plans to make oil trains safer

By Shari Phiel, December 01, 2014

A new, 500-page state report says railroad oil shipments through Washington may increase sevenfold in the next six years and recommends 40 measures to improve safety and protect the environment.

The state Department of Ecology report, released Monday, recommends additional spending for emergency planning, training and equipment, rail inspections and ongoing risk assessments.

The study does not outline the costs of measures it is suggesting to the railroad industry and the Legislature. Lawmakers already are grappling with budget shortfalls to fund court-ordered and voter-approved mandates for improving public schools.

“There’s a lot of people concerned about oil trains, including myself. But I think whatever we do it has to be reasonable and not go so far as to be unrealistic for the industry,” state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said Monday.

The Legislature requested the study based on recent changes in how crude oil moves through rail corridors and Washington waters.

Ecology’s report says 19 crude oil unit trains — each measuring 100 cars — now move through Washington each week. That number could grow to 137 trains per week by 2020 if the full build-out of proposed oil terminals is permitted, Ecology said.

The oil is coming from the North Dakota’s Bakken area. Many of the trains run through the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main lines that run through Cowlitz County.

“I don’t have a problem with oil trains if the safety stuff that needs to be done is done,” Takko said.

But increased safety measures aren’t the only issues the state is considering. The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division, which helped research and compile Ecology’s report, also looked at how emergency crews would respond to an oil spill or train derailment.

“In our survey of first responders, we heard from a large percentage of districts that believe they need additional training or resources to effectively respond to a train derailment and fire,” EMD spokeswoman Karen Ferreira said.

Ecology included recommendations for more track, upgrades to equipment and crossing signals, furnishing oil spill response equipment, and developing hazardous materials response teams.

Opponents to crude oil shipments through the Pacific Northwest aren’t looking to the state for answers.

“There’s really not a lot the state can do. This is a federal issue,” Longview activist John Green said.

Burlington Northern spokesman Gus Melonas had not seen the report, but he said the railroad “is committed to safely move all types of commodities through Longview. We have thorough processes for inspection, detection … and will continue to invest to protect the railroad, public and environment complying with Federal standards. BNSF will continue to work closely with Washington state on future safety discussions.”

The final report will be delivered to the Legislature on March 1.

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.”