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News / Business

BNSF reports drop in Wash. oil train shipments

The Columbian
Published: July 8, 2014, 12:00am

SEATTLE — The latest disclosure from BNSF Railway shows a drop in the number of volatile oil train shipments that moved through Washington state in a single week.

BNSF Railway previously reported as many as 19 trains of Bakken crude oil traversed the state during the week of May 29 to June 4. They updated those numbers to show as many as 13 oil trains during the following week.

State officials released the updated information Monday in response to a public records request from The Associated Press.

While the actual weekly counts fluctuated, the average high and low reported by BNSF remained the same.

On average, as many as 18 trains move through Washington state. The trains traversed 16 counties, with Lincoln County topping the list with an average weekly high of 18 and a low of 15. King County, on average, sees as many as 13 and as few as 8 a week.

The railroad had sought to keep information about oil train shipments from the public, but the state declined to sign a confidentiality agreement and provided it under the state public records law.

BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said freight traffic can fluctuate daily or weekly. “There are ebbs and flows. It depends on the market demand and the needs of our customer,” she said Monday.

Kerry McHugh, a spokesman for the Washington Environmental Council, said the oil shipments pose a risk to communities and waterways.

“If you think about the amount of oil traveling through Washington versus in 2010, it’s a dramatic change. You have to look at it as an overall change, not on a week-by-week basis.”

A lot of information is coming out, but it’s only a start, McHugh added.

Gov. Jay Inslee last month directed state agencies to the risk of accidents along rail lines, assess the relative risk of Bakken crude oil compared to other forms of crude oil, and begin developing oil-spill response plans for affected counties. The Department of Ecology is expected to come up with budget recommendations and initial findings by Oct. 1.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to notify state officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes of trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

The order requires railroads to tell state emergency managers if oil train traffic increases or decreases by 25 percent, which prompted BNSF’s latest notification.

For the week of June 5 to June 11, 13 oil trains passed through BNSF tracks in eight counties: Adams, Benton, Clark, Franklin, Klickitat, Lincoln, Skamania and Spokane.