Judge allows Swinomish lawsuit over oil trains to proceed

By Shannen Kuest, Skagit Valley Herald, goskagit.com


A federal judge ruled Friday that a lawsuit filed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community against BNSF Railway over oil train shipments may continue in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik denied a motion by BNSF to refer key questions to the Surface Transportation Board, a three-member board in Washington, D.C., that oversees railroad operations, according to a news release.

The Swinomish tribe sued BNSF in April for violating the terms of an easement agreement allowing trains to cross its reservation in Skagit County.

The lawsuit concerns train tracks laid along the northern edge of the reservation in the 1800s without consent from the tribe or federal government. The tracks serve two Anacortes oil refineries, and in 1976 the tribe filed a lawsuit for nearly a century of trespass.

In 1991, the tribe and BNSF signed an agreement settling that lawsuit and granting BNSF an easement with several conditions: BNSF would regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo, and only one train of no more than 25 railcars would cross the reservation in each direction daily. In exchange, the tribe agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” from future BNSF requests to increase the number of trains or cars.

The tribe learned from media reports in late 2012 that “unit trains” of 100 railcars or more were beginning to cross the reservation. Today, BNSF is reportedly running six 100-car unit trains per week across the reservation, more than four times as many railcars daily as permitted by the easement, according to the release.

Each of these trains carry between 2.8 million and 3.4 million gallons of Bakken crude, a particularly explosive cargo that has drawn the attention of lawmakers and federal regulators.

The tribe never granted permission to increase the number of railcars and repeatedly demanded that BNSF stop violating the easement. So far, BNSF has refused.

BNSF argued it has a responsibility to provide service, even for hazardous commodities, and that the easement doesn’t give the tribe power to “dictate the commodities that BNSF can handle over the line,” according to the release.

Tribal attorneys argued that the tribe does not want to regulate BNSF operations, but wants BNSF to live up to its contractual obligations.

Lasnik agreed, writing in a six-page ruling that, “In the context of this case, referral to the (transportation board) is neither efficient nor necessary.”

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting BNSF from running more than one train of 25 cars in each direction and shipping crude oil from the Bakken region across the reservation. The tribe also seeks judgments against BNSF for trespass and breach of contract.

Puget Sound Tribe’s Lawsuit Aims To Keep Oil Trains Off Its Reservation

File photo of EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran (left) meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation. Cladoosby's tribe has filed a lawsuit to stop oil trains from traveling on its reservation.Ashley Ahearn
File photo of EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran (left) meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation. Cladoosby’s tribe has filed a lawsuit to stop oil trains from traveling on its reservation.
Ashley Ahearn


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW


The Swinomish Tribe has filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway to stop oil trains from traveling through its reservation.

BNSF train tracks cross the top of the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County. In recent years they’ve been used to move oil from North Dakota to two refineries in Anacortes.

In 1990 BNSF and the Swinomish reached a settlement that required BNSF to regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo moving through the reservation. It also limited traffic to two 25-car trains per day.

Now, the tribe says BNSF is running several times that many train cars through the reservation each day (an estimated six oil trains of more than 100 cars per week).

The Swinomish Tribe says BNSF does not have permission for the increased oil train traffic and that the company is putting the tribe’s way of life at risk.

“We told BNSF to stop, again and again,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Our signatures were on the agreement with BNSF, so were theirs, and so was the United States. But despite all that, BNSF began running its Bakken oil trains across the Reservation without asking, and without even telling us.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It seeks to stop BNSF Railway from moving oil through the reservation.

BNSF spokesperson Courtney Wallace says the company has received the complaint and is reviewing it.

Quinault Speak Out Against Oil Trains as Rail Cars Smolder in West Virginia

Chief Petty Officer Angie Vallier/U.S. Coast Guard photo via Popular ScienceThe derailed train cars in West Virginia, still smoldering a day later.
Chief Petty Officer Angie Vallier/U.S. Coast Guard photo via Popular Science
The derailed train cars in West Virginia, still smoldering a day later.


As two dozen charred freight-train tankers continued smoldering in West Virginia on Thursday, the Quinault Indian Nation grabbed the opportunity to once again deride the transport of crude oil by rail because of safety and environmental considerations.

RELATED: Video: Raw Footage of Exploding Oil Train in West Virginia Shows Dangers of Rail Transport

“Even as we face very severe, and growing, challenges from fossil fuel-induced climate change, oil production has doubled in this country over the past five years,” Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp said in a statement on February 17, a day after the 109-car train carrying three million gallons of extra-volatile Bakken crude derailed. “And it is getting spilled, in massive amounts, in many places. From 1975 to 2012, there was an average of 800,000 gallons of oil spilled from trains onto the lands and into the waters of this country each year. Last year alone that number skyrocketed to 1.15 million gallons.”

Indeed, at least one of the cars fell and discharged its contents into a tributary of the Kanawha River, and two towns had to be evacuated. Moreover, the train was on the same route that saw the derailment of three tanker cars into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia, last year, the Associated Pressreported. Speed was not a factor, according to AP.

RELATED: Lynchburg Oil Train Explosion Refuels Rail-Terminal Opposition in Northwest

Oil terminals are proposed in Grays Harbor near Quinault territory, and Sharp has been outspoken against those projects. At least 130,000 barrels of crude oil would move through the Westway and Imperium oil terminals daily from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, the Quinault statement said. Another 45,000 barrels would be accommodated at a terminal proposed in Hoquiam as well, the tribe said.

“People need to realize that these trains are unsafe, at any speed, regardless of the expertise of the crew and despite the efficiency of their communication with towns and cities through which they travel, the general provisions of related bills in the legislature and congress,” Sharp said. “The country’s infrastructure, such as its rails and bridges, are not strong enough or in good enough repair to handle the massive weight and pounding these trains deliver.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/20/quinault-speak-out-against-oil-trains-rail-cars-smolder-west-virginia-159305

More Oil Trains Could Roll Through Puget Sound To Shell Refinery

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery. Matt Krogh
More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery.
Matt Krogh


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell’s refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington’s five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Skagit County had previously approved the necessary shoreline permits granting the go-ahead to Shell to construct expand rail at its Anacortes refinery to receive mile-long oil trains, six of them per week. Environmental groups appealed the decision, calling for a more comprehensive review of the potential health and environmental impacts.

The room was packed Thursday, when the Skagit County Hearing Examiner heard public comments pertaining to the shoreline development and forest practice permits necessary for Shell to proceed with its proposed expansion.

Roughly 15 oil trains already travel along Puget Sound each week, servicing the US Oil, BP Cherry Point, Phillips66 and Tesoro refineries.

“That’s a lot of trains, with no studies whatsoever about human health impacts, chronic exposure, risks, all that sort of thing.” said Matt Krogh of ForestEthics, which has raised concerns about the increase in oil train traffic in the region. “There’s pent up frustration.”

In November, a car in an oil train arrived at the BP refinery 1,611 gallons short, with an open valve and a missing plug, according to a report from McClatchy, a news organization.

There were 30 Shell refinery employees at the hearing, and six of them registered to give testimony.

The company says that the rail expansion project is not intended to increase the refinery’s capacity but to partially replace crude oil that currently arrives by marine tanker.

“Shell is committed to following the permitting process and taking all appropriate measures to meet rigorous safety and environmental standards,” said Tom Rizzo, Shell Puget Sound Refinery general manager, in an emailed statement. “Shell needs the ability to bring oil in by rail to ensure enough crude to keep the refinery viable so that it can continue to produce gasoline and other fuels for Pacific Northwest consumers, and to generate jobs, economic development and tax revenue for the local community.”

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner will decide whether an environmental review must be conducted before final permits are issued for the Shell Refinery to build the necessary rail spur to receive oil trains.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing permits for the project.

Tribal leaders, Commissioner warn of oil train dangers

Washington’s people and environment potentially at risk

Press Release: Washington State Department of Natural Resources

OLYMPIA – Increased oil train traffic on Washington’s aging rail system puts the state’s people and ecosystems at risk, according to an opinion piece by ten tribal leaders and the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, published today in the Seattle Times.

“Crude By Rail: Too Much, Too Soon” calls for federal regulators to improve safety protocols and equipment standards on Washington rail lines to deal with a forty-fold increase in oil train traffic since 2008. Trains carrying crude oil are highly combustible and, if derailed, present serious threats to public safety and environmental health.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation; Jim Boyd, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Brian “Spee~Pots” Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; William B. Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe; Maria Lopez, chairwoman of the Hoh Indian Tribe; David Lopeman, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe; Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation; Charles Woodruff, chairman of the Quileute Tribe; Herman Williams Sr., chairman of the Tulalip Tribes; and Gary Burke, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation joined Commissioner Goldmark in urging policymakers to address critical issues around the increase of oil train traffic through the state.

“The Northwest has suffered from a pollution-based economy,” said Cladoosby in a statement. “We are the first peoples of this great region, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our ancestral fishing, hunting and gathering grounds are not reduced to a glorified highway for industry. Our great teacher, Billy Frank, Jr., taught us that we are the voices of the Salish Sea and salmon, and we must speak to protect them. If we cannot restore the health of the region from past and present pollution, how can we possibly think we can restore and pay for the impact of this new and unknown resource?

“We are invested in a healthy economy, but not an economy that will destroy our way of life. We will not profit from this new industry, but rather, we as citizens of the Northwest will pay, one way or another, for the mess it will leave behind in our backyard. We will stand with Commissioner Goldmark and our fellow citizens and do what we need so those who call this great state home will live a healthy, safe and prosperous life,” said Cladoosby.

“Good public policy demands that we make informed decisions using information based on the best science and perspective that must include cultural values and traditional knowledge,” said Quinault President Fawn Sharp. According to her statement, the Quinault Tribe is leading a movement against three oil terminals in Grays Harbor and most recently joined more than 700 Washington state citizens to testify at an October hearing held by the Department of Ecology.

“The Quinault are national leaders of long-standing in natural resources protection and strive to protect the oceans and waterways across the Northwest,” said Sharp.

For Tulalip Chairman Herman Williams, Sr., endangerment of fish runs by oil train pollution is a key concern.

“For generations we have witnessed the destruction of our way of life, our fishing areas, and the resources we hold dear,” said Williams in a statement. “The Boldt decision very clearly interpreted the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott to reserve 50 percent of the salmon and management to the tribes. The federal government must now partner with tribes to protect the 50 percent of what remains of our fishing rights. The Tulalip Tribes will not allow our children’s future to be taken away for a dollar today. Our treaty rights are not for sale,” said Williams.

According to Commissioner Goldmark, tribal leadership on the oil train issue is essential.

“Tribal leaders bring unique perspective and concern about threats to our treasured landscapes,” said Goldmark. “It’s an honor to join them in this important message about the growth of oil train traffic in our state and the threat it poses to public safety, environmental sustainability, and our quality of life.”

Report Finds Weakness In Seattle’s Ability To Respond To Oil Train Mishap

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW


A new report by public safety agencies highlights several weaknesses in Seattle’s ability to respond to an oil train accident.

The report to the Seattle City Council was complied by the Seattle Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management.

At the top of the report’s list of concerns: the 100 year old tunnel that runs through the middle of downtown Seattle. The report said that the lack of safety systems in the Great Northern tunnel will present significant challenges to first responders.

Next on the list: landslides along Puget Sound. The stretch of track between Seattle and Everett has banks that are prone to slides.

The report also found Seattle’s Citizen Notification System to be outdated. City officials could have to go door to door alerting residents in person in the event of an oil train emergency.

Train tracks are usually located in flat areas. In King County, that can also mean areas that are prone to liquefaction during an earthquake, the report found.

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Courtney Wallace did not respond to an interview request. She previously told Crosscut.com via email that the report’s recommendations were under review. She later added that BNSF is working to connect its communication system in the tunnel with a system the fire department uses and that the company is also making plans to provide mobile fan units at both tunnel-ends.

A BNSF Railway oil train derailed in Seattle in July. No oil was spilled.

Especially volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota is being transported by rail to refineries and ports throughout North America — including in the Northwest. Between 8 and 13 oil trains traveling through Seattle each week, according to rail industry reports made public this year.

‘Coming crisis’: more trains carrying coal and oil


Mark Mulligan / The HeraldA train of tank cars — each bearing the placard 1267, denoting that the tank carries crude oil — waits on the tracks going through Everett recently.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
A train of tank cars — each bearing the placard 1267, denoting that the tank carries crude oil — waits on the tracks going through Everett recently.

By Jerry Cornfield, Herald Writer


EVERETT — A surge in coal and oil trains through Snohomish County is a “coming crisis” which threatens to irreparably damage the quality of life in several communities unless addressed, the mayor of Edmonds warned Friday.

Drivers already face long backups at railroad crossings more often because freight rail traffic is increasing, and the situation will only worsen if plans for new oil refineries and a coal export terminal proceed, Mayor Dave Earling said.

“We all need to acknowledge it is a serious problem,” Earling said in opening comments at an event focused on coal and oil trains in the county. “I view it as a coming crisis and one we need to start taking care of today.”

The forum on the county campus began with supporters and opponents of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal politely sparring over the economic good and the ecological bad of building it.

Seattle-based SSA Marine’s proposal for the terminal at Cherry Point is undergoing extensive environmental review now and, if approved, could be operating at full capacity in 2019.

By then, the terminal could be handling about 54 million metric tons of dry bulk commodities per year, most of it coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana.

That would add nine loaded trains per day heading to the terminal and nine empties coming from it. The trains are expected each to be about 1.6 miles long.

Ross Macfarlane, a program manager for Climate Solutions, and Eric de Place, a policy director for Sightline Institute, argued against the terminal, saying it runs counter to efforts by the state to pursue alternative sources of energy.

“It locks us into a dirty energy cycle that is extremely destructive,” de Place said.

But Terry Finn, a consultant with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and Joseph Ritzman, a vice president of SSA International, countered that rejecting the terminal ignores the market reality that the potential purchaser of the coal, China, will buy coal elsewhere and burn it nonetheless.

“I don’t think it makes one iota of difference” in the world of energy, but it will mean a loss of jobs and economic development for Washington, Finn said.

The duos also disagreed about the threat of coal dust and the risk of derailments.

But it was the potential of more coal and oil trains tying up even more traffic on city streets that seemed foremost on the minds of elected leaders and residents in attendance.

A report issued by the Puget Sound Regional Council in July found that freight rail traffic in Washington is expected to grow 130 percent by 2035 — without the new coal terminal. That would amount to 27 to 31 more trains per day between Seattle and Spokane and up to 10 more per day between Everett and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The report amplified Earling’s concern. The city has two at-grade railroad crossings leading to the waterfront. When trains come through town and the crossing arms go down, access to the waterfront is cut off.

He said a 2005 report done for the city of Edmonds predicted the number of trains passing through the city each day could rise from roughly 35 to 70 by 2020 and 104 by 2030. That study didn’t factor in added rail shipments of coal and crude oil.

Edmonds isn’t the only city with concerns.

The mayors of Marysville, Mukilteo and Snohomish and an Everett city councilman attended Friday. So did Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

“It is really a complex issue that impacts cities dramatically,” Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak said.

Marysville could endure the most disproportionate impact of the surge in rail traffic because of its numerous at-grade rail crossings. Wait times could increase by as much as 147 percent per day within the city, the regional council study found.

A possible solution is to eliminate at-grade crossings by building overpasses or underpasses, known as “grade-separation” projects. But the regional council report estimates they would cost anywhere from $50 million to $200 million, paid for mostly with public money.

According to federal law, railroads only can be required to contribute up to 5 percent of that cost.

During a question-and-answer period, Reid Shockey of Everett, a member of the Snohomish County Committee for Improved Transportation, pressed Finn on whether BNSF Railway might put up a greater percentage of the cost of grade separation.

Finn said he couldn’t commit BNSF to any figure.

“I think it’s something that is negotiable,” he said.


More Than 15 Oil Trains Per Week Travel Through Washington

By Tony Schick, OPB

The public learned Tuesday just how many trains are hauling oil from North Dakota through Washington:

Fifteen per week through 10 different counties, according to railroad notifications released by the Washington Military Department.

Klickitat County in south-central Washington sees the most traffic, with 19 trains of over 1 million gallons per week passing through. Adams, Franklin, Skamania and Clark counties each have a listed count of 18 trains per week. More than 10 trains per week also pass through King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties.

The notifications were provided as part of an emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation, meant to ensure state regulators and emergency responders were well informed about the shipments of particularly volatile Bakken oil, which has been involved in a string of fiery explosions.

Those notifications became the subject of a transparency debate after the railroads asked states to sign nondisclosure agreements. Washington refused to sign the agreement, saying it would violate the state’s public records law. But upon receiving public records requests the state gave the railroads a 10-day window to seek court injunctions.

After no railroads sought injunctions, the state posted all of the records online Tuesday.

Three other railroads also filed notifications. Union Pacific informed the state it does carry enough Bakken crude — meaning no shipments of more than 1 million gallons or roughly 35 tank cars — to be required to disclose. Portland and Western Railroad carries trains three trains per week from Vancouver across the Columbia river and into Clatskanie, Oregon. Tacoma Rail handles three trains per week in Pierce County received from BNSF.

In Oregon, Union Pacific, Portland and Western and BNSF all filed notifications. Oregon has yet to decide whether it will release the information to the public. Richard Hoover, spokesman for the State Fire Marshal’s office, said a decision is still likely a week or more away.



Data Sources: BNSF, Energy Information Administration, National Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau. Map by Jordan Wirfs-Brock, courtesy of Inside Energy.

Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee Issues Directive On Oil Train Safety

Source: The Columbian

Gov. Jay Inslee directed the state Thursday to tackle mounting public safety concerns and develop a spill response plan as oil train traffic continues to increase, particularly in Southwest Washington.

He announced the directive at a meeting of The Columbian’s editorial board in Vancouver.

“The Pacific Northwest is experiencing rapid changes in how crude oil is moving through rail corridors and over Washington waters, creating new safety and environmental concerns,” the directive reads.

The governor asked the Department of Ecology to work with other state agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration and tribal governments to “identify data and information gaps that hinder improvements in public safety and spill prevention and response.”

Specifically, the governor’s directive asks agencies to: – Characterize risk of accidents along rail lines. – Review state and federal laws and rules with respect to rail safety and identify regulatory gaps. – Assess the relative risk of Bakken crude with respect to other forms of crude oil. – Identify data and information gaps that hinder improvements in public safety and spill prevention and response. – Begin development of spill response plans for impacted counties. – Identify potential actions that can be coordinated with neighboring states and British Columbia. – Identify, prioritize, and estimate costs for state actions that will improve public safety and spill prevention and response.

He set an Oct. 1 deadline for agencies to respond.

He also said he’ll reach out to other states to develop coordinated oil transportation safety and spill response plans, and pledged to ask the 2015-17 Legislature for money for oil train safety.

The directive comes as the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is reviewing an application by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. to build an oil shipping terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Bakken crude would arrive at Vancouver by train and leave by ship or barge on the Columbia River.

As governor, Inslee will have the final say on the Tesoro-Savage permit. “We will make the right decision at the right time,” he said, without tipping his hand.

The first-term Democrat is in Vancouver all day today. He presented awards to Washington State Department of Transportation employees, and is scheduled to visit a local technology firm, Smith-Root, that is expanding. This evening he will give the commencement address at the Washington School for the Deaf’s graduation ceremony.

Wash. Legislator: Oil Trains ‘Going To Be With Us For A While’

The Northwest would see more oil trains like these under proposed rail-to-ship terminals on Washington's Grays Harbor. That's the subject of public hearings Thursday and Tuesday. | credit: Flickr
The Northwest would see more oil trains like these under proposed rail-to-ship terminals on Washington’s Grays Harbor. That’s the subject of public hearings Thursday and Tuesday. | credit: Flickr


By Tom Banse, NW News Network

Environmental regulators in Washington state are expecting a lively crowd Thursday in the coastal city of Hoquiam, where the public gets a chance to weigh in about increased crude oil train traffic.

Developers are proposing side-by-side marine terminal expansions on Grays Harbor along the Washington coast. They would receive crude oil by rail from the Northern Plains and send it out by barge and tanker to West Coast refineries. This would add to the already fast-rising number of crude oil trains crossing the Northwest. Environmentalists, shellfish growers and coastal tribes are organizing in opposition.

But one powerful state senator asserts that oil trains are “going to be with us for a while.” Republican Doug Ericksen represents a district in northwest Washington that is home to two oil refineries.

“Simply saying no — coming to a meeting and saying we just don’t want any oil coming through Washington state — that’s not realistic. It’s not going to happen. That would actually be devastating to our economy, trying to prevent these crude oil stocks from moving to our refineries,” he said.

Ericksen agrees oil train safety is a legitimate concern. Environmental campaigners argue many of the rail cars carrying crude across the region are old and unsafe and pose grave risks to rail-side communities.

What’s Next

The City of Hoquiam and Washington Department of Ecology are jointly leading the environmental review of the planned crude oil terminals in Grays Harbor County. The public can take a look at the proposals and offer comments at Hoquiam High School Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. A second public meeting is scheduled for April 29 at Centralia High School.

This was first reported by the Northwest News Network.