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.