crude oil

U.S. Department of Transportation

Washington’s rail safety regulator says there are about 3,000 rail crossings in the state that inspectors have never looked at because they sit on private land.

Experts say these could be problem areas as more trains carry crude oil through the state. They plan to ask the legislature for more authority.

The coast has generally been considered the area of the Northwest most at risk for a catastrophic oil spill. But the rise in oil moving through the region by rail has raised the stakes for some inland areas. Three counties in the northern tip of Idaho are now creating their own strategy for containing an oil spill.

courtesy Dana Robinson Slote / Seattle City Council

Three tanker cars derailed at a Seattle rail yard early Thursday while carrying oil from North Dakota to a refinery in Anacortes.

No one was hurt and none of the oil spilled, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe. But the incident spurred renewed calls from the city for a ban on oil train traffic near neighborhoods.  

An expansion of the Northwest’s largest oil terminal will be the subject of a public hearing before the Army Corps of Engineers Thursday evening in Seattle. Environmentalists are calling for limits on oil tanker traffic at BP’s docks at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. 

Environmental impact statements are usually heard before a project is built. But in an unusual twist, this hearing concerns a facility that’s been up and running for 13 years.

Matthew Brown AP Photo

The rapid increase of trains carrying crude oil across the region has raised alarm bells in the wake of a series of serious accidents. Communities and first responders say they can’t adequately prepare for possible disasters because railroads are not required to give any information on the shipments.

That’s about to change, at least to some extent, with a new regulation that takes effect Friday.

AP Photo

Less than four years ago, there were virtually no shipments of crude oil by rail car through Washington state. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see the dark-gray tanks at crossings all over the state.  

U.S.  Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., held a hearing with top transportation and safety officials to discuss potential safety measures to protect communities in the face of more growth.  

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Seattle has joined Spokane and Bellingham in passing a resolution to restrict oil shipments by rail until further review.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed the resolution co-sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

AP Photo

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.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

State lawmakers in Olympia are going down divergent tracks in how to respond to the rapid increase of crude oil trains crossing the region. Timely public disclosure of train cargoes and safety risks is one point of contention.

Four recent derailments and explosions of crude oil trains in other parts of North America have raised alarm in city halls and state capitols in the Northwest. But state and local officials soon discovered their hands are largely tied because the feds have sole jurisdiction in this arena.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Faced with increasingly volatile sources of crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week issued an executive order directing his state agencies to review safety regulations and response plans.

Now community activists in Washington are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to do the same for the state’s coast.