Feb. 21– Feb. 21–A new federal rule will require railroads to create regional spill response plans for oil trains.
The regulation comes after a fiery derailment of an oil train in Oregon’sColumbia River Gorge in 2016, as well as derailments in other parts of the U.S. and Canada in recent years.
“This new rule will make the transport of energy products by railroad safer,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement earlier this month. It will go into effect in about six months.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’sPipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued the rule in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration. The regulation aims to have equipment and crews at the ready in case an oil train derails and causes a large fire, requiring comprehensive plans by railroads. The rule applies to oil trains with strings of 20 or more loaded tanker cars and longer trains with at least 35 loaded tankers.
Oil trains pass through Oregon, carrying crude oil to seaports such as Portland, as well as refineries in California. In recent years the trains have become a concern because of the volatile nature of their cargo. The Bakken oil patch in North Dakota and Montana produces most of the oil hauled by trains to the West Coast.
Transporting crude oil by rail remains inherently unsafe, said Michael Lang, conservation director for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a Portland-based nonprofit organization. The group advocates against oil trains passing through the Gorge. He added that the new federal rule fails to measurably improve safety for oil trains.
“While notification is improved, oil trains will continue to be a threat to our rivers and communities,” Lang said.
On June 3, 2016, a westbound Union Pacific train hauling Bakken crude oil derailed in Mosier, a small Oregon town in the Gorge, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Three of the 16 cars that derailed caught fire and four cars spilled oil.
The EPA estimates the burning and broken tankers released a combined 47,000 gallons of oil, and of that 16,000 gallons burned or vaporized. Emergency crews poured 2 million gallons of water on the massive blaze, which prompted the evacuation of nearly 150 people and closure of Interstate 84 and Highway 30.
A runaway train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and exploded, killing 47 people. Other fiery crashes and fuel spills have occurred in Alabama, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia.
Follow Dylan Darling on Twitter @DylanJDarling. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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