|Oil tanker cars derailed beneath the Magnolia Bridge in July of 2014. Seattle “narrowly missed disaster”, say Washington Fire Chiefs. Photo: Joshua Bessex, SeattlePI.com|
Fire chiefs demand oil train disaster plans from BNSF Railroad
The Washington Fire Chiefs, in a pointed letter, have asked the BNSF Railroad to turn over “Worst Case Scenarios” for an oil train accident as well as “Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans” for high hazard flammable trains.
“What is the potential impact of a crude oil disaster in Washington communities?” the chiefs want to know.
The letter comes as three oil trains pass through Seattle each day en route to northern Puget Sound refineries. Railroads now transport one-tenth of U.S. crude oil output — approximately 1.1 million barrels a day.Writing to BNSF CEO Matthew Rose, the fire chiefs said Seattle “narrowly missed disaster” last July when three tanker cars derailed at a rail yard under the Magnolia Bridge.
The train was going only 5 mph, but the cars that derailed were carrying 27,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.
Signed by Washington Fire Chiefs Executive Director Wayne Senter, the letter sounded a note of frustration, telling Rose:“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.”
Railroads have balked at requests by emergency responders that would make public such information as the schedule of oil trains passing through population centers.
Specifically, Washington Fire Chiefs want information on what the U.S. Department of Transportation calls High Hazard Flammable Trains averaging 100 cars each, as well as smaller “manifest trains” that pass through Washington. They are asking for:
– “Your railroad’s own calculated Worst Case Scenarios for a potential crude oil emergency in urban and sensitive environmental locales. What is the potential impact of a crude oil disaster in Washington communities?”
– “Evidence of the levels of catastrophic insurance coverage your railroad has purchased relevant for potential serious releases in Washington State. For what level of potential disaster is your railroad covered?”
– “Your high hazard flammable train Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans, both generic and for specific locations in Washington, urban and rural. Is there any credible emergency response to crude oil disasters except evacuation?
4. Your route analysis documentation and route selection results for Washington State., pursuant to 2007 Public Law 110-53 on urban hazmat safety and security routing, with the currently covered cargoes, especially chlorine and ammonia, as well as for the newly-recognized "key trains" of crude oil and ethanol. How have you weighted the 27 federal routing factors and whatever interchange agreements your railroad has struck with others to avoid high-risk areas?
The letter is dated March 5, and Senter requested that he receive the information within a month. It's a much faster way of trying to get BNSF to reveal exactly where its crude oil tankers are than, say, passing a bill through a fraught state legislature that would mandate more public disclosure. If BNSF obeys, that means firefighters might be able to get significantly more information about Pacific Northwest oil train shipments in the next week and a half.OilcheckNW has been in touch with Wayne Senter
This morning, Fire Chief Executive director Wayne Senter, told Oil Check that they haven't heard from any of the railroads yet. In the letter, Senter gave 30 days to comply with their request. That was 20 days ago and we will update if any respond.Currently in the Washington legislature, is bill HB-1449 which hopes to address many of the state’s concerns on oil trains. The bill places a fee on oil shippers to help fund a potential disaster recovery fund, scenario planning as well as disclosure of much of the information laid out by the Fire Chiefs. Port operators have downplayed the risks of oil train disasters with questionable studies and an obvious conflict of interests.
For my money, If first responders are worried we should all listen.