Seattle Mulls Resolution Calling For Closer Scrutiny Of Oil Trains

Mar 4, 2014

Seattle is on its way to joining Spokane and Bellingham in demanding tougher scrutiny of oil trains traveling through the city. A resolution that would restrict oil shipments until further review has passed out of a city council committee, and is scheduled for a vote before the full council on Monday.

Council member Mike O’Brien, who chairs Seattle's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, says he’s been shocked by recent headlines about fiery explosions of increasingly volatile petroleum products like Bakken crude. And he recently learned a new statistic about how quickly the number of such shipments has been increasing.

“Just in the last four years, the volume of oil being transported by rail in this country has gone up 57-fold, which is a massive increase,” O'Brien said, referring to a study released last week by the Seattle think-tank Sightline

“It seems like it might be prudent for us to really consider the implications of that, both to public safety and to climate, before we move any further along that path.”

O’Brien is co-sponsoring the legislation with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, so it's likely to swiftly become law.

The council member says he thinks these kinds of measures could give an important boost to the clean energy economy promised by Gov. Jay Inslee during his election campaign.

O'Brien says trains carrying petroleum products through cities aren't creating any jobs in most of the big population centers where they're snarling traffic and potentially endangering people. Instead, he says, finite rail capacity should be used to export clean technology and other safe products made in local communities.

"That's  really exciting, and that's what we should be using our rail and export capacity for," O'Brien said, calling clean energy "the kind of work we can all be more proud of, to help make our planet more sustainable."

Meanwhile, Oregon's Port of Portland has also just joined the list of governments pushing back against big oil shipping plans. Citing safety concerns, authorities there say they’re not yet ready to be a petroleum terminal.

Oil companies say they are opting in to new safety technologies, but legislation such as a “right to know” bill before lawmakers in Olympia this session might reveal sensitive and proprietary information.