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Ecology approves state’s first railroad oil spill plan

March 3, 2018 GMT

The state Department of Ecology has approved the state’s first oil spill plan for a railroad.

Ecology announced Thursday that the agency approved the plan for BNSF Railway.

BNSF rail lines run from the Idaho state line near Spokane southwest to the Columbia River, along the river and then north along Interstate 5 to the Canadian border.

Skagit County is along that route.

An estimated 68,000 tank cars carrying oil enter Skagit County each year, according to Ecology data. That’s nearly 2 billion gallons of oil, some of which is delivered to refineries near Anacortes.

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Those trains may travel BNSF lines that cross the lower Skagit and Samish rivers, over the Swinomish Channel, and run along Skagit, Samish, Padilla and Fidalgo bay shorelines.

The newly approved plan provides guidelines and tools that will help BNSF and emergency response contractors respond to oil spills from trains on the company’s rail lines, including those in Skagit County.

BNSF completed the plan Feb. 16, according to a letter Ecology issued Thursday. The plan is good until March 1, 2023.

According to the executive summary of the plan, the plan demonstrates BNSF’s ability to promptly remove oil and minimize potential impacts from a variety of spill sizes, including worst-case spills of oil.

A worst-case spill is defined in the plan as 531,000 gallons, or 15 percent of the cargo carried in BNSF’s largest oil trains.

Between 2007 and 2016, the largest BNSF oil spill in Washington was 12,000 gallons, according to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data.

BNSF’s emergency planning includes year-round training, coordination with local agencies, having specialized equipment available, and having emergency responders at the ready, according to the plan.

The state previously only required oil spill contingency plans for ships, pipelines and oil facilities.

That changed in 2015 when the state Legislature passed the Oil Transportation Safety Act, which was created in response to an increase in oil moved into the state by train.

The increase began in 2012 when the Andeavor Anacortes Refinery — formerly Tesoro — received the state’s first shipment of oil by train from the Bakken region, which is largely in North Dakota.

Along with prompting more state regulation, the increase in oil train traffic has raised concerns in recent years among Skagit County residents.

Much of those concerns — and related protests — centered on the deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 and the fear that a similar derailment and explosion could happen here.