Politics Blog

Leaking cars, vapor pressure, vessel traffic among concerns in Ecology’s final oil transportation study

The state Department of Ecology has turned in its final oil transportation study to the Legislature with updated recommendations and some new information.

Really quickly, the final report has a few new sections that weren’t included in the draft version published in December 2014. Among other things, those include information about investigations of leaking rail cars that traveled through the state, changes in North Dakota intended to make Bakken safer to move, and the potential impacts of increased vessel traffic discussed at a Salish Sea Workshop held in Whatcom County in January.

First, let’s look at the leaking oil car investigations.

For anyone who missed it, in January, McClatchy reporter Curtis Tate broke the newsthat a crude oil train made it all the way to BP Cherry Point refinery before anyone realized a car had leaked 1,611 gallons. Then on Feb. 6 the Bellingham Herald reported that a train needed to have 14 leaking crude oil cars removed at three different stops in Idaho and Washington in mid-January.

Those incidents are listed in the report, next to two additions: On Feb. 12 a rail car carrying Bakken crude was found leaking in a Seattle rail yard, and on Feb. 23 a rail car carrying Canadian crude had oil residue around the top fittings. About two gallons were estimated to have leaked in the Feb. 12 incident, and there is no estimate for how much leaked in from the Canadian crude car, the report states.

All of those leaks are still being investigated. Look for more on this issue from the Herald this week.

The report also gives background on a December 2014 decision by the Industrial Commission of North Dakota, which will take effect in April. Shippers will be required to stabilize Bakken crude to a vapor pressure below 13.7 pounds per square inch.

In the Salish Sea Workshop handbook, the report details potential vessel traffic changes in Puget Sound and on the Salish Sea from at least three major projects, all of which are in our backyard.

The report references SSA Marine’s proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, which, “would represent more than 8 percent of the overall cargo vessel traffic within the Salish Sea at full operating capacity.”

The proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion just north of the border from Whatcom County would move oil from Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia, and increase crude oil tanker traffic from “Westridge terminal in Vancouver from roughly 60 tankers to roughly 400 tankers annually.”

The report also cites proposed projects in the Port of Metro Vancouver terminals, including Roberts Banks Terminals 2, which would build an additional three-berth container terminal at a shipping site just a few miles Northwest of Point Roberts. Between that and plans for the Neptune Terminal Coal Expansion project, the two projects would represent 33 percent of the cargo shipping increase in the Salish Sea between 2011 and 2016, according to Ecology’s report.

As in the draft of the study, the final document outlines recommendations for what state lawmakers can do to try and address issues created by oil transportation. Many of those recommendations form the foundation of House Bill 1449, an oil safety bill introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The more than 1,000 comments Ecology received while putting together the study will be summarized and released with Ecology’s responses this month.

You can find the 560-some-odd-page document here.