Oil-by-rail shipments have dramatically increased in the last few years as a result of extreme extraction booms in the Bakken Shale and Alberta Tar Sands. Hazardous oil trains place an enormous burden of risk on our communities, economies, and environment.
Northwest Washington is being heavily targeted with piece-by-piece build-out of an oil pipeline on rails, transforming our region into a sacrifice-zone for unconventional fossil fuel transport to the Pacific.
RE Sources, in partnership with Stand.earth (formerly Forest Ethics) and the Stand Up to Oil coalition, are working to block new oil-train infrastructure in Skagit and Whatcom counties, and build public insistence for legislative action to regulate safety standards and halt dangerous shipments.
Read Waterkeeper Alliance & ForestEthics report on the dangerous state of railways moving explosive fuels across the nation.
Oil trains move toxic and extremely explosive oil thousands of miles across the United States, over our waterways and through our communities. Increases in oil train traffic and the inadequate oversight of U.S. railroad bridge safety could have severe consequences for the 25 million Americans living in the one-mile blast zone, as well as the watersheds and drinking water sources that these trains cross.
The dramatic 5,000% increase in oil train traffic since 2008 has raised the threat of catastrophic railroad accidents in the U.S. The federal government estimates the U.S. will see an average of 14 oil train accidents per year over the next 5 years. This year, the U.S. and Canada have experienced six major oil train derailments and explosions.
Overly broad federal law, lax regulations, dangerously inadequate inspections and oversight, and lack of authority compound the threat from oil trains. Local governments are prevented by law from regulating most aspects of railroads, while federal law leaves responsibility for safety inspections and maintenance to the rail bridge owners and does not even set minimum standards for bridge design or maintenance.
The Federal Railroad Administration, in reaction to public concern, is starting to recognize that railroad bridges are a serious issue. However, all the agency has done to address this growing concern is ask the railroad companies to be more transparent, a request that has been largely ignored.
Click here to read the full report on the state of railways moving explosive fuels across the nation.
TAKE ACTION NOW and join Waterkeeper Alliance in demanding that the federal government use its power to protect people, rather than cave to industry pressure. As a first step, the Federal Railroad Administration must ensure that no rail bridge be used for oil trains or other hazardous materials unless it has passed a rigorous, third-party safety inspection.
Crude oil may be headed through Bellingham by rail - Bellingham Herald Blog, July 18 2012
BP Cherry Point refinery could get crude oil shipments by rail - Bellingham Herald, July 18 2012
BP taking next steps on rail project for crude oil - Bellingham Herald, November 30 2012
The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails - Sightline Institute Report, June 24 2013
What you can do about oil-by-rail in the Northwest - Sightline Daily, June 26 2013
Proposed rail-to-ship crude oil terminal biggest yet in region - KPLU, June 27 2013
Whatcom refineries gear up for crude oil via rail - Bellingham Herald, June 28 2013
3 dead in oil train derailment - Bellingham Herald, July 6 2013
40 still missing in deadly Canada rail crash, fire - Bellingham Herald, July 8 2013
Oil train explodes in Alabama - Sightline Daily, November 8 2013
Analysis: As Alabama derailment flames fade, new oil-by-rail questions arise - Reuters, November 12 2013
Proposal would increase oil tanker traffic in Washington waters - Bellingham Herald, December 27 2013
Officials urging evacuation near North Dakota derailment - Seattle P-I, December 30 2013
Safety questions after ND train derailment - Seattle P-I, December 31 2013
Bakken crude more dangerous to ship than other oil, according to US government - Bloomberg, January 2 2014
Oil shipments to Washington state are more flammable - KING-5 News, January 2 2014
Despite reports, response slow to danger of oil fires on rail tankers - Bellingham Herald, January 3 2014
Oil train derails under Seattle's Magnolia bridge - KOMO-4 News, July 24 2014
Big cities scramble to be prepared for an oil train disaster - Seattle Times, September 19 2014
Inslee: More must be done to improve oil train safety - Everett Herald, October 1 2014
Cost of oil trains in Grays Harbor- Kuow.org, Febuary 10 2015
Longview port proposed for oil refinery on the Colombia River- Seattle Times, March 27 2015
Grays Harbor oil terminal would threaten Quinalt Indian identity- Seattle Times June 1 2015
The EPA raises concerns about oil by rail terminal in Vancouver - Seattle Times, August 4 2015
Videos show disputed oil trains rolling by stadiums during games - KOMO-4 News, October 1 2015
Shell Puget Sound RefinerySkagit County SEPA MDNS - Issued April 24 2014
Phillips 66 Refinery
Whatcom County SEPA MDNS - Issued April 29 2013
BP Cherry Point
Whatcom County SEPA MDNS Part 1 - Issued October 18 2012
Whatcom County SEPA MDNS Part 2 - Issued October 18 2012
Whatcom County has issued a SEPA Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for both the Phillips 66 and BP oil rail expansion projects. This means that the proposals to build necessary infrastructure at these refineries were determined to be non-significant (under state law) if they meet the mitigating requirements laid out by the County. Please review the documents above to learn more. We will post Part 2 of the BP MDNS once it is released in digital form by the County.
Oil rail shipments present a number of potential environmental impacts on our communities. These proposals are likely to bring added traffic, the risk of oil spills and derailments, and the burning of oil is a major contributor to climate change. Here are some of the top concerns associated with oil rail shipments:
Because oil rail shipments do not substantially alter the operations of refinery facilities, the ability to block these shipments under state law are pretty limited. Despite these limitations, there is still a lot the average person can do in the short term: