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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Oil train safety focus of Ecology hearing

Proposed rules for railroads not enough, some say

By , Columbian staff writer

The Washington Department of Ecology on Friday pitched its proposed new rules to protect the environment from oil spills during a train derailment, but some in the audience at a Vancouver public hearing questioned if the agency was doing enough.

The proposed rules, which would affect oil transported by rail throughout the state, will address the plans and equipment a railroad would have in place in the event of a spill. They outline contingency plans, drills and equipment verification requirements and set provisions to inspect the records of railroad facilities required to submit oil spill contingency plans and emergency response contractors.

“Washington has the lowest by volume oil spills in coastal waters compared to other states and we want that to be the same for inland areas,” said Lisa Copeland, Ecology communications manager.

The rules would create planning points along railways throughout the state where spill-response equipment would be stored.

Currently Ecology is taking public comment on the proposed contingency plan rules. The comment period ends June 10.

While the rules are focused on protecting waterways, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Ecology’s preparedness section manager, said the rules would require railroads to say how they would respond to a spill on land and if it would get in water.

The rules would be phased in to give them time to comply. Small railroads, for example, would be given up to a year to secure equipment contracts, and up to two years to fill any equipment gaps.

About 20 people attended the meeting held Friday morning, before an oil spill on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge captured the attention of oil-by-rail transport supporters and opponents. Although the meeting addressed moving oil anywhere in the state, the Vancouver Energy terminal was on the lips of several people who asked questions and gave testimony.

Skamania County Fire District 4 Commissioner Tim Young commended Ecology for taking action where the federal government has taken virtually none, but he said the steps don’t go far enough.

“One part of the rules allows in situ burning (letting oil burn where it spills). I’m saying you won’t have a choice,” he said.

He cited a study done by the Department of Homeland Security estimating it would take 80,000 gallons of water and 1,500 gallons of foam carried by 32 tanker trucks to stop a fire involving just three cars. However, he said the four most recent derailments and fires involved 11 cars.

Young said five of the seven miles of railroad go through wooded parts of the county that would be inaccessible to firefighting equipment.

“It’s a myth a fire department could take care of the fire. Not even a suburban or urban fire department could handle it,” he said.

Columbian staff writer