Tag Archives: Washington

Washington Senator Cantwell calls for elimination of DOT-111 tanker cars

Repost from Longview Daily News, Longview, WA

Sen. Cantwell presses oil executives to fast-track use of safer rail cars

March 8, 2014 By Erik Olson

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is demanding the oil industry eliminate older, unsafe tanker cars that are hauling crude oil through the Pacific Northwest, including those that pass oil through Cowlitz and Columbia counties.

At a Senate hearing Thursday on rail safety in Washington, D.C., Cantwell pressed industry executives on when they will pull cars known as “DOT 111” off the rails in favor of newer, sturdier models that are less likely to be punctured and spill.

The safety of oil trains has come under increasing scrutiny following the increase in drilling from the Bakken shale fields centered in North Dakota. Communities on rail lines have expressed concerns of a growing risk of fiery explosions if oil trains derail and detonate highly flammable Bakken sweet crude, and regulators have been slow to respond.

Critics warn about the possibility of disasters like last year’s crude oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which caused an explosion that killed 47 people.

“We’ve gone from four years ago — having basically nothing on rail by crude — to now having something like 408,000 carloads of crude. Knowing when those cars are going to be off those rails — these cars that the National Transportation Safety Board has already said are unacceptable — this is a key issue for me and for my state,” Cantwell said in a written transcript.

Oil industry executives, who own most of the tanker cars, told Cantwell said they hope to phase out 60 percent of the older cars by 2015 but couldn’t say when they’d all be off the rails.

In the Pacific Northwest, most of those trains are headed to the BP oil refinery in Anacortes near the San Juan Islands and to a converted ethanol production facility at Port Westward owned by Boston-based Global Partners.

Some of those trains pass through Cowlitz County on the way to the refinery, and other oil trains pass through Rainier en route to the oil export terminal at Port Westward.

Rainier Mayor Jerry Cole said he supports Cantwell’s efforts but trusts Global to operate safely while creating jobs in the area. He said a Global official called him this week and said the company is moving the oil as safely as possible. About a dozen trains with about 100 cars each currently come through downtown Rainier per month, 22 fewer than Global is allowed by its permit.

“The safer rail cars, at the end of the day, are good for everyone along that line, from their end destination to the beginning,” Cole said.

The legality of some of those shipments remains under dispute. Oregon state regulators said this week that Global has violated its permits by moving 297 million gallons of oil to Port Westward between December 2012 and November 2013 when its permit allowed 50 million gallons. The company is disputing the claim.

Railroad officials note that they don’t own tanker cars — the oil companies do — but they are installing safety measures on unit trains and mainlines, such as better brakes and additional locomotives. They said they applauded Cantwell’s call for increased safety.

“If something is on our rails, and we’re carrying it, we’re going to do it in the safest ways possible,” Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said.

Oil train safety bills in Washington state

Repost from Skagit Valley Herald, GOSKAGIT.com

Lawmakers focus on oil train safety in House, Senate bills

Measures move forward as session’s Feb. 18 cutoff approaches

By Daniel DeMay, GOSKAGIT

OLYMPIA — Trains carrying crude oil across Washington, including those that may soon head to the Shell Puget Sound refinery at March Point in Anacortes, are the center of attention in state legislation under consideration this week.

House Bill 2347 and Senate Bill 6524 are both aimed at stepping up the safety of oil trains in the wake of increasing numbers of spills and other rail incidents across the country last year.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, would require quarterly reporting of oil transport data and a study of the state’s ability to respond to a spill, as well as provisions to increase safety of oil brought by tanker into Puget Sound, Grays Harbor and the Columbia River. The Senate bill would require a study of the safety of rail oil transport in the state, including spill response abilities.

Though the exact increase in oil trains through Washington is unclear, production of oil has risen dramatically in the U.S., mostly due an almost 1,000 percent increase in production in North Dakota, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Burlington City Councilman Chris Loving said the two measures are a step in the right direction, and he hopes they will wind up addressing evacuation in the event of a serious spill.

“There’s no way we could fight a fire (from a spill),” Loving said.

Loving said even the increase of one 100-car train per day that Shell hopes to bring to its refinery would worsen the existing problem of crossing the tracks that split Burlington north and south.

The key for Farrell is transparency about what is passing through towns and cities in rail cars and tankers, and the dangers those products might pose to people, she said Tuesday before a vote on her bill in the House Environment Committee.

“The public has a right to know what’s happening in our communities with regard to oil transport,” she said.

Her measure passed in an 8-5 vote, days before the cutoff to get policy bills out of committee.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, received testimony in a public hearing Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, chaired by Ericksen. Despite the late hearing, lawmakers there were confident it would get out of committee.

The Senate proposal would require studies of safety and preparedness, create a $10 million fund and direct cities and counties to create first-responder programs for spill response. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate bill would not require disclosure of rail or tanker shipment data and does not call for added provisions on tanker safety.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said some version of the bill would move forward, although it may include portions of a third bill on the matter that has yet to be granted a hearing. That bill is essentially the equivalent of Farrell’s House measure.

Ranker said he thinks the issue of oil transport is the biggest environmental and economic issue the state faces.

“It’s something we’ve got to get a handle on,” he said after the hearing. “And right now, we don’t.”

The lack of action in Ericksen’s bill drew criticism from lobbyists and other stakeholders who testified Tuesday. Most agreed that portions of the SB 6262, the companion to Farrell’s measure, would need to be included for SB 6524 to be adequate.

“We’re really in a period of dramatic change,” said Bruce Wishart, a lobbyist for Puget Sound Keeper Alliance. “We really think it deserves more than studying issues.”

The House bill will need to be voted out of the House before Feb. 18 to get further consideration. The Senate bill needs to be out of committee this week and also make it out of the Senate before Feb. 18.

— Reporter Daniel DeMay: ddemay@skagitpublishing.com; Twitter: @Daniel_SVH

Washington SB-3589 calls for state regulations

Repost from Kitsap Sun.  …California senators and assembly members please note!  The Washington House version HB-2347 can be found here.

Rolfes’ bill addresses future of oil transport

By Christopher Dunagan
Kitsap Sun
Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

OLYMPIA — Methods of moving crude oil to market are changing rapidly, and the state must respond just as deftly to protect sensitive water and upland habitats as well as people, according to state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

Rolfes recently introduced a bill known as the Oil Transportation and Safety Act. If approved, the legislation would build upon existing regulations dealing with oil transport by tanker and barge. It also would launch important conversations about transport by rail and pipeline, she said.

“The tricky part to rail,” Rolfes said, “is that we have little regulatory authority at the state level. Railroads are mostly regulated by the federal government.”

Nevertheless, she said, residents of the state have every right to know the amount and types of oil traveling through their communities — especially with increased shipments of the more explosive Bakken oil coming out of Montana and North Dakota and recent train derailments, some resulting in severe fires.

Rolfes’ bill, SB-3589. would require the owner of oil-shipment facilities to report information about oil transport. State officials would aggregate all the information and report quarterly figures. Armed with such information, communities could decide whether federal protections are adequate, she noted.

The bill also calls on the Washington Department of Ecology to evaluate emergency response plans, identify vulnerable areas and propose ideas to increase safety.

The bill also calls on Ecology to consider whether additional tug escorts are needed for large tankers in Puget Sound, where one tug currently is required. Consideration would be given for possible tug escorts on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor, where tug-escort rules do not apply.

Alaska requires two tug escorts for tankers moving on Prince William Sound, according to officials testifying Wednesday on a companion bill in the House.

As proposed, the legislation would triple the penalties for spilling oil from a barge if the operator acted negligently. The operator would be excused from any negligence claims if at least two qualified people were posted on the bridge of the tug during the duration of the trip.

Rolfes’ bill and the companion House bill, HB-2347, have been declared the top priority this legislative session by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, made up of more than 20 environmental groups working together as a lobbying force.

“The bill doesn’t seek to have answers,” Clifford Traisman, lobbyist for the coalition, said during Wednesday’s hearing. “It seeks to ask questions. What jurisdictions do we have? What needs to be studied? What does not need to be studied? The bill raises lots of questions and sets up processes for the answers to come.”

Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline, a member of the coalition, said the state is not prepared for the expected increases in oil shipments by rail. News of train derailments and explosions adds new urgency to the problem, he said.

Frank Holmes of the Western States Petroleum Association said Washington already has some of the most stringent oil-spill regulations in the country. With no clear showing that more regulations are needed, the Legislature should delay action until studies of the risks, benefits and economic impacts are completed, he said.

Holmes also was concerned about the release of public information regarding oil transport. Some information could give one company a competitive advantage over another, he said. To protect proprietary information, California has passed a law that spells out what can and cannot be disclosed, he said. The law allows companies to challenge public disclosure in advance, he noted, urging Washington legislators to take a similar approach.

Denise Clifford, governmental relations director for Ecology, said the bill has some good ideas, but her agency cannot officially support it without funding — and none has been provided in the governor’s budget.

Rolfes said she would support some money for Ecology to begin the critical evaluation. Some discussions should include Canada, which is proposing increased tanker traffic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, she said.

“I don’t believe they are as advanced as we are in preventing oil spills,” she said. “If they (oil tankers) stay in Canadian waters, they can avoid our regulations.”

Rolfes said the Legislature should support prevention of oil spills over cleanup after environmental damage has occurred.

“Every preventive measure we’ve ever taken has been a hard-fought battle,” she said. “A lot of the (existing) laws are really old. We need to talk about whether we need more protection for our waterways, given the huge increase in overwater traffic that is coming.”