Washington cities eye moves involving oil trains

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SEATTLE (AP) - Concerned about fire and other safety issues, cities in Washington state are eyeing increased oversight of oil trains that rumble through communities.

On Tuesday, a Seattle City Council committee is expected to discuss a resolution asking railway companies to consider restricting oil shipments through the city until further study. It also plans to consider calling for a statewide moratorium on oil-by-rail projects.

“The safety of our city and state are what is ultimately important here,” Seattle Mayor Murray said. A vote of the full council is expected next Monday.

The meeting is set days after federal regulators announced tougher testing involving the flammability of crude oil before it is shipped by rail. The move came in response to a string of train accidents since last summer involving oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana.

In July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

The cities of Bellingham and Spokane last month passed resolutions calling for tougher scrutiny of oil shipments. In Olympia, state lawmakers at odds over how best to prepare for increasing oil trains said they’re working to reach an agreement before the legislative session ends next week.

The federal government regulates interstate railroad commerce. State and local officials say they need to be prepared as the trains cut through heavily populated cities.

State and county regulators are starting to review three oil terminal projects that could bring millions of gallons of crude oil a day through the state.

The largest is proposed at the Port of Vancouver and could handle as much as 380,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is deciding what should be studied during the environmental review of the $110 million project by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos.

Two other projects are proposed at Grays Harbor. A project by Westway could accept up to 9.6 million barrels of oil a year, or about one train every three days. Imperium Renewables’ proposed expansion would add up to nine new storage tanks to store an additional 720,000 barrels.

One train typically has about 100 tanker cars, each carrying about 28,000 gallons.

Trains currently carry oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota through Spokane, the Tri-Cities, along the Columbia River and up the Interstate 5 corridor.

“We need to know what’s happening and be able to prepare for it,” said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, who sponsored House Bill 2347, an oil transportation safety bill that would, among other things, require shippers to report information to the public.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, chair of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee, didn’t give the bill a hearing before a deadline last Friday. Instead, the Ferndale Republican said he is working on getting bi-partisan support on a new measure.

“It’s a quickly moving field and we’re going to stay on top of it,” said Ericksen, whose own bill on oil trains, Senate Bill 6524, failed to advance last month.

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