Oil Check Washington

Washington Fire Chiefs to Railroads: You need to disclose more on oil trains

Oil trains, as we’ve seen across the country, are derailing and erupting into flames at an alarming rate. While we’ve shipped oil by rail before, the type of oil is new. Bakken Shale is much more volatile and is being shipped at a pace communities have never seen.

Northwest first responders are justifiably worried. In Washington, firefighters have expressed grave concerns. They want to know where these trains are, how much oil they are bringing in and the risks shippers anticipate. Unfortunately the railroads, don’t particularly feel like telling them anything. Sighting terrorism concerns, major rail operators have refused to disclose any information, promoting the Washington Fire Chiefs to send a sternly worded letter to the state’s four major rail operators BNSF, Union Pacific, Canadian National Railways and Canadian Pacific Railway.

“The safety of our communities and firefighters is of utmost importance. We have seen the impacts that train derailments have had on Lac-Megantic, Canada killed 47 people, burning homes from the inside out as fire erupted out of water pipes, drains and sewers.”

The Letter goes on, sighting the derailment in North Seattle last July WFC Executive Director Wayne Senter goes on to talk about how serious the situation is:

“Seattle narrowly missed disaster when three tanker cars derailed at a rail yard under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge. The cars that derailed were carrying 27,000 gallons of Bakken oil each. The Washington Fire Chiefs has an interest to ensure the safety of our members and their communities.”

And why don’t Fire Fighters have the information they need?

“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.”

Firefighters requested:

  • Worst case secenario emergency planning info
  • What level of catastrophic insurance coverage do railroads have (assesses risk)
  • What is the response plan to crude? Needs to be more comprehensive than simply, evacuate.
  • Route selection: where are the trains going and how often?

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.

Nick Abraham - editor and lead contributor of Oil Check Northwest

[email protected]


In a response to the WA Fire Chiefs sent today (March 27th) at 5:00PM BNSF would like the meet privately with the organization to discuss their needs rather than disclose information publicly. You can read full text of the letter here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/2/?ui=2&ik=eee6c834...


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