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.