Repost from The Camas-Washougal Post-Record [Editor: This article begins with a narrow focus (a letter from the Mayor of Camas), but then expands to detail a growing consensus among local and regional elected officials in the Northwest. – RS]
Mayor’s letter focuses on oil train concerns
Document was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee
March 24, 2015 2:36 p.m.
The City of Camas recently mailed a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, raising concerns about oil train safety and supporting efforts to improve emergency preparedness efforts.
The letter signed by Mayor Scott Higgins was sent last week.
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies are proposing to build an oil-transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver. It would be capable of handling 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
“A major east-west railroad corridor passes through Camas adjacent to our downtown, residential areas, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill and the Columbia River and its tributaries,” Higgins’ letter states. “The number of crude oil railroad cars passing through our city continues to increase and if there is a terminal located in Vancouver, Washington, the numbers would significantly increase.”
According to Higgins, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department is not equipped to handle the type of train derailments and explosions that have happened in the rural areas of Illinois and West Virginia.
“If a similar event occurred in Camas or a comparable location, we risk significant loss of life and property damage,” he wrote. “We as a region need to be prepared and have the resources to respond to this type of event.”
He called for the railroad to be required to have enough liability insurance to cover all costs, should a similar major accident occur locally.
Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Anderson said he supports the content of the letter, adding that it should also be sent to the state’s senators and representatives.
“I recognize it’s out of our scope to directly influence, but putting a voice out there helps,” he said.
In February, the Washougal City Council passed a resolution expressing concerns about how the location of an oil terminal in Vancouver could cause safety and traffic issues. It was delivered to Inslee and the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council, as well as local congressional representatives, state legislators and federal and state agencies.
Several local leaders are part of a coalition of elected officials across the Northwest, called the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. Its mission is to understand and raise awareness of the safety and economic impacts of coal and oil trains. [See also Facebook.]
Camas City Councilman Don Chaney and Washougal City Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay, as well as a handful of Vancouver city councilors, are listed as members of the group. It includes more than 150 people from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia in Canada.
Meanwhile, a forum is being planned that will focus on the oil industry’s potential impacts on Southwest Washington.
The event, which will be moderated by Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute, will be held Wednesday, April 1, at 6 p.m., at Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., in Vancouver. Doors open at 5:30.
Forum panelists will include Lauren Goldberg, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper; Vancouver City Councilwoman Anne McEnerny-Ogle; Barry Cain of Gramor Development; Eric LaBrant of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association and a representative from Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Sponsors include the Sightline Institute, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Clark County Natural Resources Council.
What officials want to do with exploding oil train traffic
By Jake Thomas, March 18, 2015
Every day a potential bomb, sometimes a mile long, quietly passes through Spokane as it makes its journey across the state.
Beginning four years ago, Washington began seeing a big change in how crude oil was transported across the state. Historically, Washington received 90 percent of its crude oil from tanker ships from Alaska or an international source. Now it comes by trains from North Dakota loaded with crude oil from the Bakken shale. Every week 16 Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains carrying Bakken oil pass through Spokane County, according to a recent report from the state Department of Ecology. The study found that the number of oil trains traveling through the state could rise to 137 a week by 2020.
Bakken oil is particularly volatile, and sometimes these trains derail and explode. In the last month alone, four oil trains have derailed in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Quebec, causing explosions and environmental contamination. In 2013, a train derailed in a small town in Quebec, killing 47 people.
In Washington, a rail line runs through Spokane Valley, downtown Spokane and Cheney and intersects with I-90. An oil train explosion along this stretch could be catastrophic.
“All of Cheney could be wiped out,” says Laura Ackerman, oil and coal campaign director at the environmental advocacy group the Lands Council. “All of these places could be wiped out.”
Last year, Washington lawmakers were unable to pass any legislation regarding oil trains. They’re trying again this session, and legislators are split on two competing proposals. In Spokane, the only urban center the trains pass through on their way to western Washington, the city’s officials have taken different approaches to potential legislation.
Earlier this month, two bills passed out of the House and Senate, respectively. They both seek to provide local communities with more information and resources for responding to an oil train derailment, but differ on how to do that.
The Senate version would require railroad companies to submit notices to be shared with local authorities on the route, time, volume and type of crude oil that was sent through their jurisdiction for the previous week. An amendment to the bill also requires a minimum of three crew members on trains carrying hazardous materials, four if the train is longer than 51 cars. It also creates grants for local first responders.
A competing bill in the House, backed by Gov. Jay Inslee, would go further by requiring rail companies to provide daily notices to local governments. Under the bill, rail companies would have to demonstrate the ability to pay for worst-case spills. It would also increase a per-barrel tax, that currently only applies to marine transport, from 4 cents to 8 cents. The tax, which is directed toward oil spill prevention, would also be applied to oil transported by rail and pipeline in Washington state.
“[The Senate bill] is too weak to declare victory, if that’s the one that passes,” says Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who has traveled to Olympia to support the governor’s bill.
Proponents of the governor’s bill, which includes Spokane Democratic state Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, say that local governments should have daily notification of oil trains because different types of oil, such as Bakken crude, are more volatile and fires resulting from them are more difficult to put out, and first responders could be better prepared if they know what’s coming.
Opponents of requiring more frequent disclosure from rail companies say that the information could be hacked and land in the hands of terrorists, to which Stuckart responds, “I think we’ve got a lot bigger threat with oil trains than terrorists.”
Mayor David Condon has not been to Olympia to lobby on the bills, and he says he doesn’t have a firm position on either. But he might develop a firmer position as the session progresses.
“You know, I just got a side-by-side comparison [of the bills],” Condon tells the Inlander. “I haven’t had a chance to review them.”
Condon says he has been engaged on oil train safety, serving as co-chair on a committee with the Association of Washington Cities dedicated to freight rail. Local first responders have undergone training exercises to prepare for an oil train derailment, says Condon, and his administration has concentrated on making sure that planning and communication are in place for such an event.
Stuckart and Councilman Jon Snyder, however, would like to see the mayor push harder for better protections.
“I’d like to see him be more [engaged on the legislation],” says Snyder.
Repost from The Columbian, Vancouver, WA [Editor: Detailed background and history on successful opposition to crude by rail in Oregon and Washington state. – RS}
Portland port passes on oil-by-rail terminal
While Vancouver pursues project, other Northwest ports aren’t so sure
By Aaron Corvin, January 18, 2015
The nation’s public ports, focused on attracting industry and jobs, are largely known as agnostics when it comes to pursuing the commodities they handle.
It doesn’t matter if the shipments are toxic or nontoxic. Ports move cargoes, the story goes. They don’t pronounce moral judgments about them.
However, at least one line of business is no longer necessarily a lock, at least in the Northwest: the transportation of crude oil by rail.
Public concerns about everything from explosive oil-train derailments and crude spills to greenhouse gas emissions and the future of life on the planet are part of the reason why.
In at least two cases in Oregon and Washington, ports decided safety and environmental concerns loomed large enough for them to step back from oil transport. The Port of Portland, for example, eyed as much as $6 million in new annual revenue when it mulled siting an oil-train export terminal, documents obtained by The Columbian show. Ultimately, Oregon’s largest port scrapped the idea because of rail safety and other worries. At one point, it also reckoned that “the public does not readily differentiate between our direct contribution to climate change and actions we enable.”
In Washington, the Port of Olympia adopted a resolution raising multiple safety, environmental and economic concerns. It noted the July 6, 2013, fiery oil-train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people. And the resolution called on the Port of Grays Harbor to rethink opening its doors to three proposed oil-by-rail transfer terminals.
To be sure, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of Northwest ports swearing off oil or other energy projects. Yet public concerns aren’t lost on the port industry. Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, said he worries that putting certain commodities such as coal under “cradle-to-grave” environmental analyses sets a bad precedent that could gum up the quest for other port cargoes.
Nevertheless, he said, “we’re concerned about oil-by-rail transportation.” So much so, the association, which represents some 64 ports in Washington, will soon issue a position paper, Johnson said. It will include calls on the federal government to boost the safety of tank cars, and to upgrade oil-spill prevention and response measures. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said that assuring the safety of oil shipments by rail would be one of its top priorities for the year.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, critics pressure port commissioners to cancel a lease to build what would be the nation’s largest oil-by-rail transfer operation. Under the contract, Tesoro Corp., a petroleum refiner, and Savage Companies, a transportation company, want to build a terminal capable of receiving an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day.
In addition to the political pressure, legal challenges dog the project, too. One lawsuit goes to the heart of how ports relate to their constituencies: It accuses Vancouver port commissioners of using multiple closed-door meetings to illegally exclude people from their discussions of the lease proposal.
The port denies the allegations. It has repeatedly said public safety remains its top concern. And it has said the oil terminal won’t get built unless the companies’ proposal wins state-level safety and environmental approvals.
Yet opponents see increased public attention to the safety and environmental impacts of proposed oil and coal terminals as reason to believe ports can no longer easily don the robes of an agnostic. “People are paying attention,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, one of three environmental groups pressing legal complaints against the Port of Vancouver. “It’s no longer simply the bottom line and the most revenue.”
In the Northwest, the Port of Portland’s decision to temporarily back off oil transport sharply contrasts with the Port of Vancouver’s choice to pursue it. Oil terminal critics use Portland’s decision to hammer the Port of Vancouver.
“I don’t see how an oil terminal is unsafe on the Oregon side of the Columbia (River) and safe on the Washington side,” VandenHeuvel said. “The striking thing is how close in proximity the ports of Portland and Vancouver are and the different approach they’ve taken on oil.”
In an email to The Columbian, Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, said the port moves “forward on projects we think have merit and will bring benefit to the port and our community.” She also said the port understands that “every port needs to make decisions that make sense for them.”
‘Protests may occur’
Initially, an oil-train operation made sense to the Port of Portland, too.
It considered three sites: Terminals 4, 5 and 6. It analyzed the production of crude from the Bakken shale formation in the Midwest and from oil sands in Canada. It assessed business risks, including Kinder Morgan’s plan to repurpose an existing natural gas pipeline to connect West Texas crude to Southern California. And it contemplated the “primary specific concern among governments and community groups” over the potential for “oil spills, whether from unit trains, pipelines from the unit trains to the storage tanks to the dock, and barges.”
In May 2013 — about a month after Tesoro and Savage announced their oil terminal proposal in Vancouver — the Port of Portland signed a nondisclosure agreement with an unspecified company (the port redacted its identity in documents) to explore locating an oil export facility near Terminal 6.
Just shy of a year later, however, the port backed away.
In March 2014, it publicly announced that while it was “interested in being part of an American energy renaissance brought on by this remarkable domestic oil transformation” it did not “believe that we have sufficient answers to the important questions regarding environmental and physical safety to proceed with any type of development at this time.”
In an email to The Columbian, Kama Simonds, a spokeswoman for the Port of Portland, said “rail car safety was the primary issue” that led the port to temporarily halt its pursuit of an oil-train terminal.
But the port also worried about damaging “our hard-won positive environmental reputation,” documents show, and noted “other relationships will be affected,” including “other governments, neighborhood associations and civic groups …”
“National environmental groups will be involved — Sierra Club, Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Greenpeace,” it also noted. “Protests may occur.”
And the Port of Portland was aware of the controversy that engulfed its neighbor, remarking that “as seen with the Tesoro project at the Port of Vancouver and other energy-related projects at several other ports on the river system and along the coastline, these kinds of announcements can quickly create opposition, controversy and protests.”
Unlike the Port of Vancouver, whose three commissioners are elected by Clark County voters, the Port of Portland’s nine commissioners are appointed by Oregon’s governor and ratified by the state Senate.
The Port of Portland’s Simonds said Gov. John Kitzhaber wasn’t kept informed of the port’s initial pursuit of an oil-by-rail facility and that “we are not aware of any formal statement issued to the port from the governor’s office.”
Nowadays, she said, the port pursues “other energy-related projects” and focuses on Canadian company Pembina Pipeline’s plan to build a propane export facility near Terminal 6. Propane would be brought to the facility by train and eventually shipped overseas. The propane terminal would use the same property that the Port of Portland had considered for an oil-by-rail transfer operation. That project is also expected to face opposition from environmental groups.
Josh Thomas, a spokesman for the Port of Portland, said the port is “extremely discerning” when thinking about energy-sector opportunities. After rejecting coal and temporarily halting oil, he said, the port is now working with Pembina. “Propane has an excellent track record as a clean and safe alternative fuel,” Thomas said, “with a good climate story, displacing many dirtier traditional fuels.”
‘We are not alone’
If the Port of Portland only temporarily dropped the idea of an oil-train venture, the Port of Olympia in Washington went further.
In August 2014, the Olympia port commission voted 2-1 to approve a resolution expressing “deep concern” about the threat to “life, safety, the environment and economic development” of hauling Bakken crude by train “through our county.”
The resolution urged the Port of Grays Harbor — some 50 miles west of the Port of Olympia — to reconsider allowing three proposed oil-transfer terminals. It also called on the city of Hoquiam to reject construction permits for the projects.
The Olympia port’s resolution didn’t sit well with the executive committee of the Washington Public Ports Association. The committee shot a letter — signed by five port commissioners, including Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver — to Port of Olympia Commissioner George Barner. The letter chastised the resolution as meddling in another port’s lawful business. “We can only presume that if another port were to do this to the Port of Olympia that you would be rightly, and deeply, offended,” according to the letter, signed by Oliver, Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro, Port of Benton Commissioner Roy Keck, Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland and Port of Chelan County Commissioner JC Baldwin.
Barner and his colleague, Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn, who cast the other “yes” vote for the resolution, returned fire with a letter of their own. “As public officials, we have a responsibility to protect our citizenry and our natural resources,” they wrote in their letter addressed to Albro. “We are not alone in our concern over the passage of crude oil by rail through our community, as no less than sixteen other jurisdictions have passed similar resolutions, including the cities of Anacortes, Aberdeen, Auburn, Bellingham, Chehalis, Edmonds, Hoquiam, Kent, Mukilteo, Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, and Westport; King and Whatcom Counties, and the Columbia River Gorge Commission.”
The jousting letters illustrate that not all ports think alike when it comes to how they do business.
Although the Port of Portland didn’t join the Port of Vancouver in seeking a share of the vast quantity of crude coming onto the nation’s rails, there appears to be no acrimony between them.
Shortly before the Port of Portland said last March that it wasn’t going after an oil-by-rail project, it gave the Port of Vancouver a heads-up about it.
“We wanted to make sure you had visibility to it prior to its release as the port is effectively making and taking a public position on crude-by-rail,” Sam Ruda, chief commercial officer for the Port of Portland, wrote in an email to Port of Vancouver CEO Todd Coleman and Chief Marketing/Sales Officer Alastair Smith.
Ruda offered to discuss the matter with them.
“I am doing this on behalf of Bill Wyatt (the Port of Portland’s executive director) who is traveling in Vietnam,” Ruda wrote in his Feb. 28, 2014 email. “At the same time, I have been very involved in this matter and am prepared to offer you perspectives and context as to why we are doing this at this time.”
Russell, the spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, said Coleman and Smith thanked Ruda for the heads-up when they later spoke with him. “These types of courtesy communications are common,” she said. “There was no additional discussion related to the statement.”
Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations
By Justin Mikulka, 2014-12-15
Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.
“Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.
“The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”
At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.
In Toronto, the new mayor called for an end to these dangerous trains passing through the city.
“I said during the campaign and I’ll repeat it now, that I think we should be moving in the direction, in negotiation with the railways and the federal government, to stop movement of toxic and dangerous substances through the city at all,” reported The Star.
Perhaps the fact that the new mayor isn’t smoking crack like his predecessor has something to do with this rather clear-headed assessment. You would, after all, have to be on crack to think running DOT-111s filled with Bakken crude through highly populated areas was an acceptable practice.
Meanwhile in Baltimore, residents are fighting a new proposal for an oil-by-rail facility that would bring these trains right through their neighborhoods.
In addition to calls for outright bans of the DOT-111s, two states recently released new studies about the oil train issue.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to fund the oil spill clean up fund for the state. The fund is projected to be in the red financially by 2016 and currently collects no fees from the oil companies transporting the Bakken and tar sands oil through the state. As many as 44 oil trains carrying at least 1,000,000 gallons of oil, and often more than 3,000,000 gallons, cross New York each week.
Cuomo criticized the federal government’s lack of movement on new oil-by-rail regulations referring to their progress as “unacceptably slow” according to The Record Online.
“Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”
Cuomo’s self-assessment of New York’s actions didn’t impress oil train activists. Sandy Steubing of Albany, NY, based group PAUSE isn’t pleased with the state’s progress.
“The Governor’s response is lame; he’s either urging other entities like the railroad and the Federal government to protect New Yorkers or he’s trying to appear like the measures he’s taking will protect us,” Steubing said. “There’s not enough foam in the entire state to protect us from an explosive derailment the likes of which we’ve seen five times since July of 2013.”
The Department of Ecology’s report estimates that 12.7 billion gallons of oil were moved through the state by rail in 2013 alone and says 19 trains of roughly 100 tank cars each are passing through the state each week today. It predicts that traffic could mushroom to 137 weekly trains by 2020 if all proposed oil terminals and refinery expansion projects are permitted and utilized.
In response, the town council made it illegal for trains to stop for more than 10 minutes in town. Now the town is being sued by Canadian Pacific. Unfortunately for the residents of Enderlin, Canadian Pacific has a strong argument that many municipalities are learning about now that they have become the home to oil train operations.
Kansas interstate commerce attorney Bob Pottroff explained the reality to Reuters, “Right now cities don’t have the right to tell a railroad it can’t park in the middle of their town.” If Enderlin were to win, Pottroff predicted the result could have far reaching effects as other municipalities opted to take some level of control over rail traffic within their borders.
In the face of this widespread opposition to the dangers posed by the oil-by-rail industry, there just happens to be a new industry-funded study showing that no new regulations are warranted.
The Railway Supply Institute funded a report prepared by The Brattle Group that concludes that all of the proposed regulations may have benefits but in every case they have found that the costs outweigh these benefits. In addition to this conclusion, Natural Gas Intelligence reports that The Brattle Group proposes one of the other favorite industry tactics for delaying new regulations. More research.
As communities across the country await new oil-by-rail regulations and continue to hear about close calls regarding oil train accidents the level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111s continues to grow. Unfortunately for them, the lobbyists for Big Oil and Big Rail are still hard at work protecting their profits above all else.