Washington gets oil train spill plan

Emergency spill response preparations for a major oil train incident in the Ever-green State took a big step forward last Thursday.

The Washington Department of Ecology has approved the state’s first oil spill response plan for the largest freight railroad company in the state, BNSF Railway Company.

BNSF owns 1,332 miles of track in the state and delivers oil to refineries at Cherry Point and Ferndale, truck racks in Seattle and Spokane, and terminals in Anacortes and Pasco. With the approved plan, BNSF meets Ecology’s more protective requirements.

“This plan is a significant step forward for the protection of Washington’s communities and environment,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology spills prevention program manager.

“Oil by rail has expanded significantly in recent years, and it’s imperative railroad companies are prepared to work with the state to respond to a spill in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner.”

According to the Department of Ecology, BNSF completed the plan Feb. 16.

The plan will be effective until March 1, 2023.

In 2017, railroad companies moved approximately 2 billion gallons of crude oil through Washington traveling through local communities, along major highways, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound.

Railroads accounted for approximately 25 percent of all crude oil moving through the state.

According to the executive summary, the plan demonstrates BNSF’s ability to promptly remove oil and minimize potential impacts from a variety of spill sizes, including worst-case spills of oil.

A worst-case spill is defined in the plan as 531,000 gallons, or 15 percent of the cargo carried in BNSF’s largest oil trains.

Under the 2015 Oil Transportation Safety Act, Ecology now requires rail lines to have contingency plans that guarantee they can respond to a spill quickly and effectively.

This is the same requirement the state has for vessels, pipelines, and oil facilities.

Washington joins California as the only two West Coast states to require oil spill contingency plans for railroad operators.

Railroads in most states follow federal regulations that emphasize safety but do not include requirements for oil spill response readiness.

The BNSF plan:

• Clarifies how notifications are made to ensure a joint response to a spill.

• Requires spill response equipment, a team, and resources to be pre-positioned statewide.

• Requires readiness to respond to oiled wildlife and community air monitoring.

• Requires ongoing annual training for local and tribal first responders and response contractors on fast-water response techniques.

• Requires the development and practice of oil spill drills.

Crude oil trains in Washington increased significantly in 2012. Prior to that most crude moved by vessel and pipeline.

The Oil Transportation Safety Act recognized new risks in Washington from the increasing amount of oil by rail.

Ecology is working on oil spill contingency plans with eight railroad companies that transport oil in Washington.

Three of them, including BNSF, transport unrefined crude oil.

BNSF operates one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America, with 32,500 miles of rail across the western two-thirds of the United States.

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