NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Oil train derails and catches fire near Mosier, Oregon, fulfilling fears of progressive activists

A great many peo­ple in the pro­gres­sive move­ment have been warn­ing that it would only be a mat­ter of time before an insuf­fi­cient­ly-secured coal or oil train derailed here in the Pacif­ic North­west. And now, it’s hap­pened:

A mul­ti-car oil train derail­ment Fri­day in the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge near Mosier sent up a mas­sive plume of black smoke and stoked long-stand­ing fears about the risks of haul­ing crude oil through one of the Pacif­ic North­west­’s most renowned landmarks.

Eleven cars from a 96-car Union Pacif­ic train derailed west of the small city about 12:20 p.m. At least one car caught on fire and released oil, but no one was injured, said rail­road spokesman Aaron Hunt.

The train orig­i­nat­ed in New Town, North Dako­ta, and was mov­ing Bakken crude to the U.S. Oil & Refin­ery Co. refin­ery in Taco­ma, said com­pa­ny spokes­woman Mar­cia Nielsen.

The acci­dent closed a 27-mile stretch of Inter­state 84 for hours as a pre­cau­tion and caused the evac­u­a­tion of a com­mu­ni­ty school.

The gov­er­nors of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton respond­ed quick­ly to the derailment.

“I am grate­ful to local first respon­ders, Haz­Mat teams, and oth­er state agen­cies for doing their best to keep the com­mu­ni­ty of Mosier safe,” said Ore­gon Gov­er­nor Kate Brown in a state­ment sent to NPI. “I am close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion and ready to make every state resource avail­able as need­ed. I ask that trav­el­ers seek alter­nate routes away from this area until fur­ther notice. The Ore­gon Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion will pro­vide con­tin­u­ous updates on trav­el conditions.”

“Today’s derail­ment of a train car­ry­ing Bakken crude oil in the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge is yet anoth­er reminder of the risks and con­cerns of crude-by-rail trans­port in our region,” added Wash­ing­ton Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee. “I join Gov. Brown in com­mend­ing the swift response from Oregon’s pub­lic safe­ty and trans­porta­tion officials.”

“There are no reports of oil enter­ing the Colum­bia Riv­er, and for­tu­nate­ly no reports of injuries. Along with the Depart­ment of Ecol­o­gy and the Util­i­ties and Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion, I will con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and pro­vide sup­port to Gov. Brown in what­ev­er way we can.”

Rail­road con­glom­er­ates like Burling­ton North­ern San­ta Fe (BNSF) and Union Pacif­ic (UP) are back­ing projects that could result in one mil­lion bar­rels of oil a day mov­ing through the region on one hun­dred trains per week, accord­ing to an updat­ed analy­sis by our friends at the Sight­line Insti­tute.

“Mov­ing large quan­ti­ties of oil by rail would rep­re­sent a major change for the Northwest’s ener­gy econ­o­my, and the plans now in devel­op­ment put the region’s com­mu­ni­ties at risk,” the report notes.

State Sen­a­tor Reuven Car­lyle (D‑36th Dis­trict: Queen Anne, Mag­no­lia, Bal­lard) said in a state­ment that it’s time for urgent action to ensure the safe­ty of Pacif­ic North­west com­mu­ni­ties from explo­sive fos­sil fuel-laden freight trains.

He writes:

Just two years fol­low­ing the wake up call derail­ment under the Mag­no­lia Bridge in Seat­tle — among the most dense neigh­bor­hoods in our state — we see mas­sive flames on the edge of the mighty Colum­bia while respon­ders pre­pare for oil to spill into the water.

Dozens of fed­er­al laws with ele­gant sound­ing envi­ron­men­tal names seem tooth­less at the very moment we need to more effec­tive­ly pro­tect the pub­lic against unre­strict­ed oil by rail traffic.

It is time for action and resolve as a state in the midst of fed­er­al impo­tence. We should imme­di­ate­ly deny per­mits to all pro­posed oil-by-rail facil­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton (Van­cou­ver, Hoquiam, Anacortes).

We should demand that exist­ing oil-by-rail indus­try car­ry insur­ance pro­por­tion­al to the risk they are deliv­er­ing to our communities.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should issue a well craft­ed mora­to­ri­um on the move­ments of all oil trains until they can be oper­at­ed in a rea­son­ably safe man­ner. We can act respon­si­bly and imme­di­ate­ly if we sim­ply open our eyes to the grip of the sta­tus quo. We as 7 mil­lion peo­ple in our pris­tine state are not help­less to act against a face­less Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau­cra­cy. We can love trains and the role they play in our econ­o­my and be fierce­ly com­mit­ted to envi­ron­men­tal pub­lic safe­ty. It’s a false choice to pre­tend we must choose one over the other.

We agree. As for­mer Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board (NTSB) Chair Deb­o­rah Hers­man said in 2014, “The large-scale ship­ments of crude oil by rail sim­ply didn’t exist 10 years ago, and our safe­ty reg­u­la­tions need to catch up with this new real­i­ty.” NTSB has pushed for fed­er­al offi­cials to make basic moves to improve the safe­ty of trains haul­ing haz­ardous car­go, but there has been lit­tle follow-up.

Mean­while, “acci­dents” con­tin­ue to occur. Today’s derail­ment near Mosier may not have been as destruc­tive as those in Lac-Megan­tic, Que­bec, Lynch­burg, Vir­ginia, or Goga­ma, Ontario, but it should serve as anoth­er wake-up call for all of us here in the Pacif­ic North­west that we are not immune to the danger.

NPI con­curs that a mora­to­ri­um should be put into place imme­di­ate­ly on oil trains by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to ensure that no com­mu­ni­ty in the Pacif­ic North­west has to be torn apart like Lac-Megan­tic was. BNSF and UP are reck­less­ly endan­ger­ing lives and prop­er­ty by con­tin­u­ing to trans­port Bakken crude and oth­er volatile fos­sil fuels using their right-of-way in brit­tle, weak containers.

Only the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has the juris­dic­tion to step in and pro­tect the peo­ple of this coun­try and this region from their temerity.

The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion needs to act, and swift­ly. Gov­er­nors Inslee and Brown would be wise to join Sen­a­tor Car­lyle in call­ing for a mora­to­ri­um with­out delay.

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2 Comments

  1. We all need to write to our law­mak­ers and sup­port the call for a moratorium.

    # by Jerry Saunders :: June 9th, 2016 at 7:42 AM
  2. It’s a mir­a­cle no one was hurt and no prop­er­ty dam­aged. But I wor­ry about the oil that seeped into the river.

    # by Ella Tedbury :: June 17th, 2016 at 2:39 AM
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