As we wrote in last week’s paper
, the Washington State Legislature is currently considering two competing bills meant to address the safety concerns presented by the influx of oil trains passing through Washington in recent years. Spokane, which is the only urban center these trains pass through on their way to western Washington, faces particular risks if one these trains were to derail and explode.
Each bill would require varying degrees of transparency for rail companies that transport oil through the state so that first-responders would be better prepared in the event of a disaster.
The Washington Fire Chiefs, an association representing fire-fighting agencies across the state, isn’t waiting for a bill to become law and has directly asked BNSF, a rail company that moves large amounts of oil across the state every day, for more information.
The letter (obtained by OilCheckNW
and shared with the Inlander
) signed by Wayne Senter, the executive director of WFC, to BNSF cites several recent derailments of oil trains, including an infamous derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people. The letter also mentions how in July of last year, three tanker cars derailed at a rail yard under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge, which could have been disastrous.
“ The WFC is well aware that even if an infinite amount of foam was available, we can only provide defensive firefighting,” reads the letter, which goes on to state:
Normally we would be able to assess the hazard through right-to-know and other public documents; however, your industry has sought and gained exemptions to these sunshine laws. This exemption does not mean that your industry is exempt from taking reasonable steps to ensure catastrophic incidents do not occur. To that end, we are specifically requesting access to your information on what the US DOT calls High Hazard Flammable Trains operating most frequently with “unit trains” averaging 100 rail cars each, as well as on “manifest trains” with 10-20 cars of these cargoes that travel through the state of Washington.
In the letter, WCF requests from BNSF the following:
- The Worst Case Scenarios for a potential crude oil train emergency in urban and sensitive environmental locations.
- Evidence of the levels of catastrophic insurance coverage BNSF has purchased for “serious releases” in Washington state.
- The Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans for specific locations in Washington, including any credible emergency response to crude oil train disasters except evacuation.
- Route analysis documentation and route selection results for Washington state.
In other oil train news, both of Washington’s U.S. senators have introduced legislation
meant to put more regulations on crude oil shipped via tank car. The legislation would also ban the use of older tank cars that critics say are at a higher risk of puncturing and catching fire.