Oil Check Washington

BNSF and Northwest oil refineries come to safety agreement, with no improvements on safety

Last week, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) met with major Northwest oil refineries BP Cherry Point, Phillips 66 Ferndale, Shell Oil Anacortes, US Oil Tacoma, Tesoro Anacortes and The Western State Petroleum Association to discuss oil train safety measures. This could have been a tremendous opportunity. It could have been a pragmatic discussion that led to some self reflection and serious considerations for the safety of the communities that these facilities operate in. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that’s not what happened.

The agreement reached entirely focused on mutual assistance in the event of a disaster. This essentially comes down to liability; a pact that if a dangerous fire, or derailment occurs they won’t turn on each other and will share responsibility and assets.

Courtney Wallace, spokeswoman for BNSF Railway in an interview with KPLU:

“If there was an accident or an incident on the railroad and we needed assistance we could call the refineries because they have extensive equipment, they have extensive experience.”

While it is comforting to know that if a spill or explosion occurs the producers and transporters will actually talk to each other, it does not address the underlying issue. Oil is being transported by rail at levels we have never seen and far too many of those trains are exploding.

It’d be disingenuous to say that this was a surprise. BNSF has been fighting disclosure and increases in safety standards for oil transport at every turn. There are real steps that transporters and refineries could take to improve safety. Reductions in speed, limits on gas volatility and electronic train brakes are options for helping protect their assets and our communities. Last week’s agreement could have been the first honest look at improvements like these. Instead BNSF and local refineries simply signed a non-binding agreement to pick up the phone if and when a disaster occurs.

We’ll hold our applause.


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