Politics Blog

BP foam trucks could help in oil train crash; railroads announce new safety measures

BP Cherry Point spokeswoman Pam Brady says the refinery would be ready and willing to send some of its fire-suppressing foam trucks to the scene of a railroad accident if fire departments needed help.

At a Thursday, Feb. 20 meeting in Bellingham on crude oil train safety issues , involving U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and local officials, interim Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold noted that the refineries have far more fire-suppressing capacity than local fire departments do, but he was not sure what the refineries' policies would be on responding to a blaze outside their property.

Brady said that while some of BP's fire-fighting equipment would always need to remain on call at the refinery itself, the refinery could still send significant amounts of help elsewhere.

"BP has a long history of helping in incidents where we can," Brady said. "We absolutely would respond ... It's part of our culture."

BP began receiving trainloads of North Dakota Bakken crude in December 2013.

In another development on the crude oil train safety front, the Association of American Railroads announced that the industry is taking steps to make "a safe rail network even safer," in consultation with federal regulators.

Read the association announcement here.

Among other things, the association promises increased track inspections, upgrades to oil train braking systems, and lower oil train speeds through the federally-designated HTUAs. HTUAs are "high threat urban areas," and no, Bellingham is not on the list . Neither is Ferndale.

But that might not matter a lot, since the speed reduction is from the self-imposed speed limit of 50 miles per hour down to 40. I don't think trains are going that fast through Bellingham now, perhaps because of the big curve the trains have to negotiate along Bellingham Bay. Are the trains hitting 50 through Ferndale? Anybody know?

Meanwhile, north of the border, Canadian Pacific Railway CEO Hunter Harrison recently told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he believes the older generation of tank cars now being used for most North American crude oil shipments should be retired or retrofitted immediately because they are too prone to rupture in an accident.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reports...and thanks to Matt Krogh for finding this. 

Key excerpt:

"Stop them (these cars) tomorrow. Don't wait for a study. We know the facts," Harrison said. "You know what it comes down to, and I hate to say this, it's the almighty dollar. Who's going to pay for this?"

Though they bear the brunt of public outrage if a spill, for the most part, railways like CP do not own the tank cars they transport - the cars are owned instead by leasing companies and shippers. Experts have said retrofitting the 72,000 older model cars in service across North America could cost owners anywhere between $30,000 to $70,000 per car.

While some industry groups have suggested it could take 10 years to rid the North American transportation system of the older DOT-111 tank cars, New York-based transportation analyst Anthony Hatch told the Calgary Herald he thinks it could be done within two to three years if governments ordered it.

"It would mean some disruption to the supply chain, but not permanent, and hopefully higher safety levels and public reassurance," Hatch said in an email.