New concerns about crude oil trains in Western Washington

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SEATTLE — Right now there’s one crude oil train traveling on tracks in Western Washington every day, but in the next three to five years that number could grow to 20 a day.

CRUDE OIL TRAIN

Courtesy: OPB

Trains with as many as 100 tanker cars carrying crude oil began rolling through Western Washington for the first time last fall.

They travel through Tacoma and along the Seattle waterfront — and a lot more are on the way.

“We know that having more trains on the tracks carrying crude oil does likely increase the risk of having a spill,” Washington Department of Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said.

So why more crude oil trains?

Washington gets about only a quarter of the crude oil the state needs from Alaska by way of tankers and pipelines, so the state is getting more from new oil fields in North Dakota and Montana. And the only way to get it here is by train — to get the crude to the U.S. Oil refining company in Tacoma and to Tesoro’s refinery in Anacortes.

Plus as many as three more Western Washington refineries are said to be ramping up facilities to accommodate crude oil trains.

So far there have been no problems, but increasing the number of trains increases the danger that a disaster could happen.

Reaction from the public varies.

“Yeah, I worry about that, you know all the spills around, you know, so, yep, I do worry,” driver Cesar Lopez said.

“I feel like the state is involved, EPA is involved, everything is being regulated and governed.  I don’t see the problem,” neighbor David Schneider said.

The crude oil tankers rolling through Western Washington right now and those that will come later are transported by the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad.

The company released a statement Tuesday saying, in part:

“Railroads remain the safest way to transport hazardous materials, reducing accidents by 91 percent since 1980 due to industry investment and operating practices, and BNSF is continuously assessing and improving its own operations to prevent incidents in the first place.”

And there is oversight from the Washington Department of Ecology.

“We’re working very diligently with the rail companies, their contractors and the oil industry to do everything we can to first prevent, to protect our communities, protect our environment,” Hart said.

Along with oil refineries, nearly a half-dozen crude oil terminals are expected to come online from Whatcom County to Grays Harbor County in the next few years.

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