Environmental Groups File Challenge to Oil Transport Rules

A train with oil tank cars idling in Philadelphia last month. The government has issued updated safety standards, which critics say do too little and the industry says are too strict.
A train with oil tank cars idling in Philadelphia last month. The government has issued updated safety standards, which critics say do too little and the industry says are too strict.



WASHINGTON — Seven environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging safety rules issued this month for trains carrying oil, arguing that the regulations are too weak to protect the public.

The groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, said the rules, issued on May 1, would allow the industry to continue to use “unsafe tank cars” for up to 10 years. They also said the rules failed to set adequate speed limits for oil trains.

“We’re suing the administration because these rules won’t protect the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone,” said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, one of the groups filing the lawsuit.

The United States and Canada issued the safety standards in response to a string of explosive accidents that have accompanied a surge in crude-by-rail shipments.

Under the rules, tank cars built before October 2011 known as DOT-111 are to be phased out within three years. DOT-111 tank cars are considered prone to puncture during accidents, increasing the risk of fire and explosions.

Tank cars without reinforced hulls built after October 2011 and known as CPC-1232 will be phased out by 2020.

In their filing, the groups asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to force the Transportation Department to reconsider the “unduly long phaseout period” for these tank cars, as well as the speed limit and public notification requirements in the rule.

While environmentalists have said the phaseout for the tank cars is too long, energy and rail groups have raised concerns that it would not be feasible to switch over the tank cars in the time allotted.

The American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit on Monday in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that challenges the timetable for retrofitting rail cars and the requirements for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

The new regulations are expected to cost an estimated $2.5 billion to adopt over the next two decades, according to estimates contained in the rules. Two-thirds of that amount would go to retrofit or retire existing tank cars.

North Dakota Today, Washington State Tomorrow?



By: Water4fish


TAHOLAH, WA (5/6/15)– The exploding oil train near Heimdal, North Dakota early Wednesday morning serves as the latest reminder that the oil trains traveling the tracks here in Washington are unsafe, according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation.

“This was just the latest in a series of oil train derailments that have resulted in crashes, followed by explosions, mountains of thick, black, toxic smoke and inevitable spills of poisonous oil that at some point make their always way into water systems, streams, rivers or marine waters,” she said.

  “Let there be no doubt. These trains are dangerous, and we are seeing more and more of them on our tracks all the time. Tribes are very concerned about them for many reasons. Not only do they jeopardize our citizens, because they are explosive and too heavy for the tracks they travel on; the oil that inevitably spills from them poisons our treaty-protected waters and aquatic resources. Also, fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. We all need to make some important decisions about the future.  Do we accept the major expansion of these poisonous fuels and the impacts they have on our environment, or do we opt to be good stewards of the land and work to phase them out and replace them with clean energy sources and wiser choices?”

 “These are our choices here in the Northwest, and in states across the country.  At Quinault Nation we have taken a stand against the proposed expansion of oil train traffic and terminals,” said President Sharp. Sharp is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, an organization of 57 Tribes encompassing six Northwest states, and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, a national organization of more than 500 Tribes.

This morning’s derailment is very similar in many ways to all the others, which have occurred in Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as numerous close calls, including Seattle, she said.  Cars run off the track, the tanks are pierced, and a spark ignites the highly volatile crude, which either comes from the North Dakota Bakken fields or oil sands in Alberta.

 In the case of this morning’s accident, a waterway known as the Big Slough runs north of the tracks near Heimdal and drains into the James River.

There were no reported injuries from the derailment of the BNSF train near Heimdal, thank God. All the residents of the tiny town did have to be evacuated, as did farms anywhere near this morning’s explosion. That was only a few dozen people. But it could have been Aberdeen, or Seattle. Then it would have been thousands, and timely evacuation could be a virtual impossibility.

 The National Transportation Safety Board sent five people the site, and the Federal Railroad Administration sent 10 investigators. But inspecting is about all they could do.  The fires caused by these explosions must burn themselves out. They’re simply too hot to handle. Some of the oil leakage could be stopped, but not much, said Sharp.

 Last week, federal regulators passed new safety rules governing crude by rail, which has become a booming business thanks to the growth in U.S. oil production. Nearly 450,000 tankers of crude moved through North America last year, up from just 9,500 in 2009.

 “The Washington State Legislature just passed a bill to enhance safety, as well, and although all safety efforts are welcome, the fact is they are not enough. The simple truth is there is no such thing as a safe oil train, no matter how strict safety standards might be.  Rail and bridge infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and renewal. But even if and when that is achieved, there will be absolutely no guarantee of safety,” she said.

“The only safe oil train is one that has no oil in it. And as painful as it may be for the oil industry to consider, the best option is to phase out the use of fossil fuels. That will take time. But this is a critical situation that needs more focus, and investment, now,” she said.

Appeal Decision Blocks Shell Oil Train Project

Victory: County must first analyze environmental and public health risks of dangerous oil rail project


Skagit River in Burlington, WA.PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENT M. / FLICKR
Skagit River in Burlington, WA.



By: Earth Justice 


Mount Vernon, WA, February 23, 2015 — The Skagit County Hearing Examiner today halted Shell Oil Refinery’s planned crude-by-rail expansion until it undertakes a full, transparent environmental review. The decision blocks the project until such a comprehensive review can be completed.

The Hearing Examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would receive hundreds of tank cars of crude oil every week, posed a significant risk of harm to people, water, and wildlife.

The decision finds that:

“The crude oil being brought in large quantities to a small area in the northwest Washington State is highly flammable and explosive. Catastrophes have occurred elsewhere. No one doubts that such a thing could occur here … Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great.”

“With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a commonsense victory for communities along the rail line,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “Before allowing more oil trains, Skagit County must make sure they pose no threat to our communities, our waters, and our way of life.”

In Skagit County, the oil trains pass right through the downtowns of Burlington and Mount Vernon. The oil trains also cross the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the Skagit River immediately above the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant and the old swing bridge spanning the Swinomish Channel directly adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. While there is pending state legislation that would enhance public information on oil transport, those laws are not yet on the books.

“The Hearing Examiner correctly found that the enormity of the environmental impacts associated with Shell’s Bakken oil trains warrants a full environmental and safety review,” said Tom Glade, president of local watchdog group Evergreen Islands, one of the appellants. “We applaud the Hearing Examiner for listening to the evidence and to the community.”

Shell is the latest of several projects that would involve increases in transportation of Bakken crude oil through Washington state, none of which received any meaningful environmental review. The decision highlights the failure of the state to grapple with the cumulative impacts of multiple projects, finding: “The total impact of the entirety of the massive upsurge in shipments of crude along this route has not been analyzed. The risks that adding one more actor to this scene poses to the environment and to health and safety can only be appreciated after a cumulative analysis of the entire picture.”

The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which support an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life—and the County’s failure to analyze the risks of an oil spill there.  He also observed the importance of the Skagit River for salmon production and the need to review potential spill impacts on salmon habitat.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands filed the Shell appeal, represented by Kristen Boyles and Jan Hasselman ofEarthjustice.

Washington Governor Wants More Done To Ensure Oil Train Safety

By Liz Jones, KUOW

SEATTLE — Oil trains moving through Washington state need upgrades, and slower speed limits. That’s part of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee response to a new state report released Wednesday about the risks of oil transport. The report also lays out some key recommendations for the Legislature

“Sobering” is how Inslee summed up this draft report. In it, the State Department of Ecology points out more oil is moving through Washington by pipeline and railways. And with that, comes a cascade of risks…to public health, safety, and the environment.

Inslee agreed more needs to be done to prevent a major spill or a tragic train derailment.

“When these things go, I don’t want to use the term bomb. But I don’t know what is a better metaphor,” he said.

The metaphor holds, considering the inferno caused by an oil train explosion last year in the Canadian province of Quebec. It killed 47 people.

“This shouldn’t be too difficult for legislators to understand that we don’t intend to allow this risk to continue of oil blowing up in railroads next to Qwest Field and Safeco Field,” Inslee said.

The report recommends that state lawmakers add funds for a whole host of things, including:

  • More train inspectors, with beefed up authority
  • More oil spill response plans, equipment and training
  • Additional fees for railroads to pay for more safety inspections

The recommendations add up to more than $13 million for the next two-year budget.

Inslee said the report will help guide his legislative proposal for the upcoming session.

Beyond that, Inslee noted the feds regulate rail transport. And he’s called on them to lower the speed limits on oil trains and to move faster on required upgrades for old rail cars.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on these recommendations at meetings later this month.

This was first reported for KUOW.

Activists Have Been Blocking an Oil Train in Everett Since Six This Morning

Police look like they might be moving to extraction. @risingtidena @kxlblockade
Police look like they might be moving to extraction. @risingtidena @kxlblockade


Tue, Sep 2, 2014 at 3:00 PM. The Stranger

Around 6 am this morning, Abby Brockway—an activist, mother, and small-business owner—and a few others set up a tripod on northbound train tracks in Everett and have been blocking a BNSF train carrying Tesoro oil ever since.

“The view up here is beautiful,” she said by phone a few minutes ago. “I saw an eagle.” Police officers arrived on the scene about an hour or so after the tripod went up and have been trying to coax her down (she says they’re claiming that if she descends voluntarily, they’ll go easy on the charges and fines*). Firefighters with long ladders have approached to try and yank her down, but Brockway has a “blackbear” lockdown device that she uses to chain herself to the tripod in between phone calls.

“Lots of big truckers are honking in support, because we’re also here in support of labor unions,” Brockway said after I asked her about a caterwauling noise in the background. “BNSF wants to increase profits by decreasing train conductors and reducing inspections—its business is increasing, so I don’t know why they’d want to cut costs, but they do.” (BNSF has been pushing to reduce train crews down to a single person, which is not only bad for labor, but a potential safety problem—especially when we’re talking about fossil fuels moving through populous areas.)

Brockway and the other activists, many of them affiliated with Rising Tide (you might remember that name from the preemptive visits they were paid by FBI agents last summer) say they’re blockading the oil train for three major reasons:

First, they want to highlight the rapid growth of shipping oil by train—growth that also has been putting farmers in a pinch by delaying shipments of apples, grain, and even coal.


  • Rising Tide

Second, they want to draw attention to how much money Tesoro devotes to campaign contributions (in our state, Democrat Suzan DelBene and Republicans Doc Hastings, Rick Larsen, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers have fed at that trough) and question whether that money has led to dithering about better regulation of fossil-fuel train shipments. “Governor Inslee is just one of those Democrats who knows what to do, but loves to just keep studying,” Brockway said from her perch. “He needs to take a bolder move for our security.”

Third, they want to highlight BNSF’s attempts to cut down on labor costs by reducing the number of workers on any given train.

Delaney Piper, a spokesperson for Rising Tide, said most of the law-enforcement response has been from the Everett police, but that at least one FBI agent has shown up, as well as an officer covered in police gear but who is wearing no identification and refuses to answer questions.

Piper added that police kicked all of the supporting demonstrators—who, she said, have ranged between 20 and 40 over the course of the day—out of the rail yard, claiming that they had all already been arrested and might be arraigned because the police had taken photos of them trespassing. (That’s a new one—I’ve never heard of arrest-via-photograph before.)

Brockway said she has provisions and plans to stay on top of the tripod for “as long as possible.”

“I’m petitioning our government,” she said. “I’ve tried standing in the streets, writing politicians on climate policy, going to hearings, I’ve never missed an election, I go to lots of marches and rallies, I’ve helped form alliances with tribal people in Washington State and also with railroad labor—they want jobs and we’re not against jobs. But I want jobs that are sustainable and that make sense for this region instead of this carbon bubble, which is the most destructive thing. And when it’s gone, those towns will be ghost towns.”


A recent Tweet from Rising Tide:
* A quick reminder to everyone: Police saying they’ll “go easy” on you in a courtroom is not a binding agreement. Moreover, police don’t actually control what happens in a courtroom—lawyers and judges do. If you’d like to read an extended account of FBI agents and Seattle police officers making promises they can’t keep about court proceedings during an interrogation, see this story. But always, always remember that any given law-enforcement official doesn’t actually have control over what a judge or prosecutor will think or do.

Coal, oil train protest blocks Everett rail yard

By: Associated Press, September 2, 2014


(Photo: Emily Johnston)
(Photo: Emily Johnston)


EVERETT, Wash. – About a dozen protesters have blocked railroad tracks at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard in Everett.

Railroad spokesman Gus Melonas says some have chained themselves to the tracks. He says the demonstration that started about 6 a.m. Tuesday has blocked freight trains at the yard although the main line remains open.

Everett police spokesman Aaron Snell says officers are standing by. They’ll let BNSF police handle the situation because it’s a trespassing issue.

The demonstration was announced by the group Rising Tide Seattle to protest shipments of oil and coal by train and proposed terminals in the Northwest.

How one Pacific Northwest tribe is carving out a resistance to coal — and winning

Daniel Thornton

By Amber Cortes and Grist staff, Grist, 15 Aug 2014

The Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest, has taken an uncompromising stand against the largest proposed coal export terminal in the country: the Gateway Pacific Terminal. If completed, it would export 48 million tons of coal mined from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, and in the process threaten the Lummi’s ancestral fishing grounds and their economic survival. On Aug. 17 the Lummi people launch a totem pole journey — both a monument to protest and a traveling rally that will bring together imperiled locals, citizen groups, and other indigenous tribes for a unified front against Big Coal and Big Oil.

Grist fellow Amber Cortes visited the Lummis in the run-up to the pivotal protest to find out how they’ve been able to push back against the terminal. The result is a rich story about activism, alliances, and small victories that add up to a big resistance.

For the full story experience, click here.

Oil Train derails in Seattle, no leaks

King 5
Credit: KING


by KING 5 News

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:48 AM

A train derailed under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge early Thursday morning.

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesperson said the train was carrying crude oil. Two of the tanker cars slightly derailed, but nothing was leaking.

Nobody was hurt.

BNSF said it is investigating the cause. The train was moving at 5 mph when it happened.

Remembering the 47/Honoring the Earth

 Source: Quinault Indian Nation


ABERDEEN,WA (6/26/14)– The Quinault Indian Nation, Citizens for a Clean Harbor, Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Friends of Grays Harbor and other concerned citizens will join together in a rally to “Honor Lac-Mégantic, Honor the Treaties and Honor the Earth” Sunday, July 6 at Aberdeen’s Zelasko Park. The public is invited.

“It’s no secret that we have been opposing the proposals by Westway, Imperium and U.S. Development corporations to build new oil terminals in our region, and the consequent massive increases in oil train and tanker traffic. But this event is intended to honor the 47 men, women and children who lost their lives in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on the first anniversary of their death due to a tragic oil train explosion,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation.

“The Tribe has made its position clear. Treaty-protected fishing rights and oil just do not mix,” said President Sharp. “We have to support sustainability in Grays Harbor, and that means protecting our environment. The fishing industry, tourism and all of the supportive businesses are far too important to let them wither away at the whim of Big Oil.”

The various sponsors of the July 6 rally also concur wholeheartedly that the rally is intended to honor the Earth. “This is what connects all of us here in Grays Harbor County. It’s what connected us with our brothers and sisters in Lac-Mégantic, too, and that’s why we honor their memory,” said President Sharp. “Chief Seattle is credited with saying that all things are connected. It is as true today as it was in his day. We all live on the same Earth, and we have got to work together to protect it for our children, and for future generations.”

The July 6 event will take place at Zelasko Park from noon to 7 pm. At various times during the day, the names of all 47 victims of the Lac-Mégantic oil train explosion will be read, as well as posted. There will also be rally signs, exhibited for the benefit of 4th of July week end traffic, music, food and other festivities. The public is encouraged to come, participate and enjoy.

For more information please email ProtectOurFuture@Quinault.org or “like”

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/QINDefense.

Oil train death toll likely to hit 50

Associated Press

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — Everyone missing in the fiery crash of a runaway oil train in Quebec is presumed dead, police told grieving families, bringing the death toll to 50 in Canada’s worst railway catastrophe in almost 150 years.

Meanwhile, attention focused on the CEO of the railway’s parent company, who faced jeers from local residents and blamed the train’s engineer for improperly setting its breaks before the disaster.

Officials said Wednesday evening that 20 bodies had been found in this burned-out town, and 30 people were missing.

“We informed them of the potential loss of their loved ones,” said Quebec police inspector Michel Forget, who came to an afternoon news briefing from a meeting with families of the dead and missing. “You have to understand that it’s a very emotional moment.”

Edward Burkhardt, the head of the train’s U.S.-based parent company blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train hurtled down a seven-mile (11-kilometer) incline, derailed and ignited in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday. All but one of its 73 cars was carrying oil, and at least five exploded.

The crash has raised questions about the rapidly growing use of rail to transport oil in North America, especially in the booming North Dakota oil fields and Alberta oil sands far from the sea.

The intensity of the explosions and fire made parts of the devastated town too hot and dangerous to enter and find bodies days after the disaster. Only one body had been formally identified, said Genevieve Guilbault of the coroner’s office, and she described efforts to identify the other remains as “very long and arduous work.”

Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway’s parent company, Rail World Inc., faced jeers from residents and scorn from Quebec’s premier as he made his first visit to the town since the disaster. He was expected to meet with residents and the mayor Thursday.

Burkhardt said the train’s engineer had been suspended without pay and was under “police control.”

Investigators also had spoken with Burkhardt during his visit, said a police official, Sgt. Benoit Richard. He did not elaborate.

Until Wednesday, the railway company had defended its employees’ actions, but that changed abruptly as Burkhardt singled out the engineer.

“We think he applied some hand brakes, but the question is, did he apply enough of them?” Burkhardt said. “He said he applied 11 hand brakes. We think that’s not true. Initially we believed him, but now we don’t.”

Burkhardt did not name the engineer, though the company had previously identified the employee as Tom Harding of Quebec. Harding has not spoken publicly since the crash.

“He’s not in jail, but police have talked about prosecuting him,” Burkhardt said. “I understand exactly why the police are considering criminal charges … If that’s the case, let the chips fall where they may.”

Investigators are also looking at a fire on the same train just hours before the disaster. A fire official has said the train’s power was shut down as standard operating procedure, meaning the train’s air brakes would have been disabled. In that case, hand brakes on individual train cars would have been needed.

The derailment is Canada’s worst railway disaster since a train plunged into a Quebec river in 1864, killing 99.

Quebec police have said they were pursuing a wide-ranging criminal investigation, extending to the possibilities of criminal negligence and some sort of tampering with the train before the crash. The heart of the town’s central business district is being treated as a crime scene and remained cordoned off by police tape.

At a news conference shortly before Burkhardt’s arrival, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois faulted his company’s response.

“We have realized there are serious gaps from the railway company from not having been there and not communicating with the public,” Marois said. She depicted Burkhardt’s attitude as “deplorable” and “unacceptable.”

Burkhardt, who arrived in town with a police escort, said he had delayed his visit in order to deal with the crisis from his office in Chicago, saying he was better able to communicate from there with insurers and officials in different places.

“I understand the extreme anger,” he said. “We owe an abject apology to the people in this town.”

In an exchange with reporters, Burkhardt defended the practice of leaving trains unmanned, as was the case when the train rolled away. Canadian transportation department officials have said there are no regulations against it.

“For the future we, and I think probably the rest of the industry, aren’t going to be leaving these trains unmanned,” Burkhardt said. “We’ll take the lead with that. I think the rest of the industry is going to follow.”

Among the residents looking on as Burkhardt spoke was Raymond Lafontaine, who is believed to have lost a son, two daughters-in-law and an employee in the disaster.

“That man, I feel pity for him,” Lafontaine said. “Maybe some who know him properly may think he’s the greatest guy in the world, but with his actions, the wait that took place, it doesn’t look good.”

The disaster forced about 2,000 of the town’s 6,000 residents from their homes, but most have been allowed to return.