We’ll soon know how many oil shipments pass through county

By the end of next week, Washington will learn how often tank cars of oil siphoned from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale are getting shipped by rail through Snohomish County and the rest of the state.

An emergency order from the U.S. Transportation Department requires railroads to tell the state how many trains carrying this highly flammable varietal of black gold are expected to travel through Washington each week, and on which routes.

Railroads are not required to reveal exactly what days and times the trains are coming or how much crude oil is getting transported.

Community leaders, emergency responders and some politicians say that’s the information they really need to be prepared for a derailment, spill or other type of accident.

They’re aware of oil train derailments in Virginia in April, in Alabama in November; and in Quebec last July, where 47 people died.

They know the chances of an accident are increasing as rail shipments of all types of crude oil multiply in Washington. The state Department of Ecology estimates it went from zero barrels in 2011 to nearly 17 million barrels — roughly 714 million gallons — in 2013.

But rather than criticize the order as inadequate, these leaders cite the federal action as a step forward.

“We’re all kind of worried about (Bakken crude) because it is much more flammable than regular crude oil. We have been asking for more information,” said Brad Reading, assistant chief of Snohomish County Fire District 1 and chairman of the countywide Special Operations Policy Board, which handles planning for hazardous materials incidents. “This is certainly a step forward.”

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said he understood the federal change “wasn’t overwhelming” in its scope when it was announced in early May.

“From the perspective of public safety, the greater the detail the better, so any movement in that direction is good,” he said.

The rules, which kick in June 6 and apply to all 50 states, cover only shipments of at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude. That sounds like a lot, except when you consider that one tank car holds about 30,000 gallons of crude oil, and oil trains commonly have 100 or more cars hitched together.

Railroads must give the State Emergency Response Commission an estimate of how many trains will run through each county each week. The commission will notify the counties.

After railroads provide the information next week, they won’t need to contact the state again unless the number of trains carrying Bakken oil increases or decreases by 25 percent or more.

Refiners and railroads aren’t enamored with the notification directive. They worry it could increase the risk of sabotage and encourage daring activists to try to block trains through protests.

They’d prefer not to see the information publicized. State emergency management officials plan to post it online but on Tuesday were checking to find out if they are barred from doing so.

And the federal rules don’t deal with the safety of the rail cars in which the Bakken is shipped. That’s a separate conversation going on in Washington, D.C., where the Obama administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are likely to impose tougher standards for rail car construction.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment &Telecommunications committee, said the new notification rule is “a piece of the puzzle” but tank car safety is critically important and needs addressing sooner than later.

He’s planning to hold a public hearing on oil trains June 17 in Spokane.

“State lawmakers must continue to pressure the federal government to take stronger action,” he said when the order came out May 7. “It is what communities throughout Washington deserve and what we didn’t get from our federal leaders today.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Bolshevik replaces BS in Eyman’s voters pamphlet statement

The initiative promoter also lost a bid to include a hyperlink to online coverage of the battle.

After work to address issues, Lynnwood gets clean audit

The city has benefited from increased revenues from sales tax.

Man with shotgun confronts man on toilet about missing phone

Police say the victim was doing his business when the suspect barged in and threatened him.

Detectives seek suspect in woman’s homicide

Alisha Michelle Canales-McGuire was shot to death Wednesday at a home south of Paine Field.

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

Smith Island habitat restoration cost to rise $1.2 million

The project is intended to increase survival rates for juvenile chinook salmon.

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Jim Mathis, the Vietnam veteran whose Marysville garden was recently featured in The Herald, died Wednesday. Mathis, who suffered from PTSD and cancer, found solace in his beautiful garden. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Vietnam veteran Jim Mathis found peace in his garden

The Marysville man who served two tours died Wednesday after suffering from cancer and PTSD.

Most Read