Oil trains: Would Congress help Washington state on oil trains?

A bipartisan effort could lead to a request for stricter federal regulation of oil trains.
Oil trains at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

Oil trains at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes. Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy

The increasing number of oil-laden railroad cars in Washington has prompted a bipartisan legislative effort to ask Congress to toughen the safety standards on those cars.

With Republicans and Democrats supporting the measure, Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-Pierce County, has introduced a measure to ask Congress for laws that would ensure greater safety. That legislation goes to a hearing before the Senate Environment & Energy Committee on Tuesday.

"Tanks carrying potentially hazardous liquids and gases by rail should meet the highest safety standards and utilize the best technology to minimize the impact of accidents," according to O'Ban's legislation's language. The legislation — dubbed a "memorial" — requests that Congress install stricter standards on new railroad tank cars. The measure also asks Congress to require roughly 92,000 existing cars to be upgraded or phased out.

An oil train crash in North Dakota recently led to an evacuation, but there were no injuries. A July explosion in Quebec devastated a downtown, killing 47 people. 

The use of trains to transport oil is growing rapidly, in part because of massive increases in oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota.

O'Ban's proposal, introduced Friday, is the third piece of oil-related transportation legislation introduced in the Senate this session. Also on Friday, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, introduced a bill that would have the state Ecology Department conduct safety studies on the transportation of oil on land and water. Ericksen's measure also calls for the state to provide grants to local governments setting up their own oil emergency response systems.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, has introduced a bill that would map out where oil tankers need tug boat escorts in the state's waters. The bill also outlines what backup propulsion systems should be required; and it would order shippers to have at least two qualified people on the bridge of a tanker at all times while in state waters. It also outlines proposed penalties for various types and volumes of spills.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Since the oil shipments are headed to local refineries for our own consumption, we could not only have an effect on this issue, but force the per-gallon price down using the easiest tool in the marketplace.

Drive less.

JimCusick

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