Port has valid concerns about oil trains

By The Olympian, October 23, 2014

The Washington Public Ports Association publicly spanked the Olympia Port Commission for urging the Port of Grays Harbor to reconsider its plan to build three new oil-by-rail terminals in Hoquiam. The WPPA apparently objects to one port raising concerns about another port’s business.


But the Port of Olympia has a right to be concerned. In fact, all South Sound residents should worry about the environmental and economic impacts of building terminals that could bring dangerous oil tanker trains moving 175,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil per day through Thurston County.


There are many valid reasons for Thurston County jurisdictions and residents to be concerned about increased train traffic carrying hazardous cargoes.


The City of Olympia’s recently completed project to move its water supply uphill from the BNSF’s main line was partly based on concerns that a catastrophic spill would pollute the city’s water source. The state Department of Ecology has started to prepare an emergency response plan for potential oil spills into the Nisqually River.


Gov. Jay Inslee has urged the federal Transportation Department to quickly phase out outdated tanker cars and impose a 30 mile-per-hour speed limit on oil trains that cross the state of Washington.


Oil tanker cars in use today were designed for heavy crude oil extracted primarily in Texas. But the Bakken oil is more volatile; it has vapors that ignite at a lower temperature. That requires thicker tank shells, puncture-resistant shields and stronger valve fittings to prevent spills that could easily explode.


The railway industry has agreed to retrofit its older cars and build new ones to higher standards, but they want a 10-year timeline to complete the expensive process. That’s too long, considering the skyrocketing growth in oil shipments. The governor wants a more reasonable one-year deadline.


Every taxpayer should also be concerned because we will pay the bill for oil spill prevention and emergency cleanup. That’s something the Legislature should fix by adopting California’s 6.5-cent-per-barrel fee on oil crossing the state by train. Oil shippers pay nothing now.


Oil train safety is everybody’s concerns, regardless of what the state port association thinks.

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