Cantwell presses DOE on oil-by-rail

U.S. senator's hearing with Energy secretary puts focus on safety with crude

By:  Lauren Dake
Source: The Columbian

When an oil train derailed in Mosier, Ore., earlier this summer, the firefighting foam that first responders rely on to extinguish oil fires dissolved before it could suppress the flames.

“The fire was burning so hot at that point, the foam disintegrated before it got to the rail cars,” Stephanie Bowman, a commissioner with the Seattle Port Authority, told U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on Monday.

Cantwell convened a hearing Monday in Seattle with U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to discuss the increase in crude oil traveling through the state of Washington. The U.S. Energy Department has partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to study crude oil’s properties to better understand its volatility and how it reacts in accidents.

Cantwell said the meeting also was meant to impress upon Moniz the need for swift action to improve safety regulations around oil transport.

“After today, he has the context of how important the research is,” Cantwell said, adding that it’s important to the Northwest region, from Vancouver to Spokane to Seattle.

Cantwell is championing the idea of a national standard regulating the volatility of Bakken crude and believes the study is crucial to realizing that goal.

“Huge population centers are depending on this,” she told The Columbian after the hearing.

The region has seen a spike in rail shipments from zero in 2010 to nearly 20 trains per week in the state. Twenty-six cities in Washington have passed resolutions expressing concern or opposition to crude-by-rail, Cantwell said in a statement.

Vancouver city councilors recently approved a ban on new oil refineries and facilities, but it won’t affect the nation’s largest crude-by rail facility proposed for the Port of Vancouver.

In June, a train bound for Tacoma derailed in Mosier, and several tank cars caught fire. Many more trains would likely travel through the Gorge, a National Scenic Area, if Vancouver Energy’s plans to build the oil terminal at the port are approved.

The hearing also addressed the Department of Energy’s role in preparing for other emergencies that could affect the operation of U.S. energy infrastructure, including cyber security attacks and natural disasters such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Cantwell and Moniz listened to testimony from state and local officials to identify where to create public-private partnerships to respond to disasters that could impact the Pacific Northwest.