Monday, November 3, 2014

Physicians Warn About Dangers of Oil Terminals in Populated Areas

 Buncefield Oil Depot after fire and explosions  2005

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility warned Harbor residents Saturday about the significant risk to the public if oil terminals are sited in the population center of Grays Harbor County. 

"There is an inherent risk of fire and explosions when handling, transporting and refining crude oil, and explosions in tanks of various sizes and at many locations are common and well documented throughout the industry" states the WPSR policy statement.

The Buncefield fire and explosion  (pictured above) resulted from the domino effect after a localized fire ignited tanks next to each other. The blast destroyed a warehouse more than 1/2 mile from the site and blew out windows five miles away. Thankfully, the Buncefield oil depot was sited far away from populated areas. The Health Agency determined after the event that no reasonable emergency response capability was feasible, given the magnitude of the fire.

Tank overflows such as the one which caused this explosion occur once in every 3,300 tank fillings- in no way a rare event.    

The Harbor location near the Cascadia Subduction Zone means the proposed oil terminals would also be at risk from earthquakes and tsunamis. The pilings to support the terminals are not likely to withstand a tsunami and tank rupture is nearly inevitable, triggering a flood of oil and resulting in fire and explosions. A single event could easily spread to the entire complex.

Conclusions of WPSR Policy Statement:

The transport of crude by rail through communities and near waterways poses significant risk to the public. These concerns have been raised in many forums. We describe a new and critical concern: proposed crude oil tank farms that by design would be sited within the population center of Hoquiam/ Aberdeen, creating permanent, indeterminate risk from fires or explosions. There is also the risk of spillage, accident and fire with any train-to-tank transfer, which could occur at any of three locations within the city.
We have presented two separate scenarios whereby massive fires and explosions could be triggered. The first, a major accident, has established precedent, and is not based simply on speculation. The second, a tsunami following a subduction earthquake, is also plausible because the entire coast of Washington is under continuous tsunami warning from the state.

Therefore, we believe that siting tank farms in Hoquiam as well as other population centers poses an unacceptable risk to the public health of residents of the area. The close proximity of one massive tank farm to three public schools and to the railroad tank cars bringing oil to the tanks should be of grave concern to residents of Hoquiam.

Policy Position:
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility opposes the siting of crude oil tanks and terminals within population centers. Further, we call upon the Washington Department of Ecology and Governor lnslee to deny permits for the proposed terminals on the basis of very serious, credible threats to the health and safety of residents of these communities.

We also call upon the WA Department of Health to study the potential health and safety issues related to crude oil storage within and shipment from communities. This seems especially important since local health departments have generally not filled this role to date.

Adopted 10/20/14
WPSR Board of trustees

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