With the latest crude-by-rail incident in North Dakota on Dec. 30, coastal Washington opponents are once again pointing out the risk in transporting crude oil.
Three proposals to ship crude oil by rail through the Port of Grays Harbor are still in the works: one by Westway Terminals, another by Imperium Renewables and a third by U.S. Development, which has not yet begun applying for permits.
There were no injuries in the latest incident, but it prompted the partial evacuation of a small town. A mile-long oil train apparently collided with another train, leading to an explosion that sent a fireball hundreds of feet into the air and burned about 10 of the train’s 104 cars. It was the fourth serious incident involving trains carrying crude oil in North America in 2013.
“It could have been us,” Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp wrote in a press release.
The Quinaults and a coalition of environmental groups — Friends of Grays Harbor, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Citizens for a Clean Harbor, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club — each filed appeals with the state after the city of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology issued a mitigated determination of nonsignificance (MDNS) for the Westway and Imperium projects.
The MDNS was reversed and the permits were remanded to the city.
“This is one of the very real dangers the Quinault Nation and others have been consistently warning people about,” Sharp said. “Industry officials, port officials and others who have been pushing for the increased oil traffic into Grays Harbor County have advocated increased traffic on the basis of benefits to employment and the economy. The folly of that argument becomes crystal clear in the wake of these accidents.”
Don Seil, general manager of project development for Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, declined to compare the incident to local proposals but noted the railroad will be watching the investigation by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and federal safety officials.
“They’ll be coming up with the fact-finding on it and determine what caused it,” Seil said. “Our railroad always tries to learn and improve, so if they find something, we’ll improve and do what we need to do to make our railroad safer. That’s our goal every day, to make our railroad safer.”