Oil train cars derail at Seattle rail yard; no spill, but some alarmed

SEATTLE – Nothing spilled when three tanker cars in an oil train derailed at rail yard in Seattle early Thursday, but it alarmed environmentalists.

“This is a warning of how dangerous this could be,” said Kerry McHugh, communications director for the Washington Environmental Council.

More people became aware of oil train dangers when a runaway train exploded in 2013 in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

McHugh noted the Seattle train derailment was near Puget Sound, under a bridge that’s the main connection to one of the city’s neighbourhoods.

“The potential for environmental damage, economic damage and the disruption of people’s lives is huge,” she said.

The train with 100 tanker cars of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota was heading for a refinery and pulling out of the rail yard at eight kilometres per hour when one of the locomotives and four cars derailed, said Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas.

The locomotive, buffer car and one of the three derailed tankers remained upright. Two of the tankers tilted. One leaning at a 45-degree angle had to be pumped out and taken elsewhere for repairs, Melonas said.

No one was injured in the accident and a railroad hazardous material crew was on the scene in five minutes, he said.

Trains carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota have been supplying Washington state refineries at Tacoma, Anacortes and near Bellingham. Oil train export terminals are proposed at Vancouver and Grays Harbor on the Washington coast.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cited safety and environmental risks in June when he directed state agencies to evaluate oil transport in the state of Washington, which shares a border with the Canadian province of British Columbia — where there’s an ongoing debate about the environmental risks posed by the transportation of oil by pipeline and train to western ports.

On Monday, the Seattle City Council sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx supporting a petition filed by environmental groups seeking an emergency ban on shipments of Bakken and other highly flammable crude oil in old style tankers known as DOT-111 cars.

“The city of Seattle is deeply concerned about the threat to life, safety and the environment of potential spills and fires from the transport of petroleum by rail,” the letter said.

The tankers involved in the Seattle accident hold about 27,000 gallons of oil and are a newer design with enhanced safeguards.

“The cars performed as designed,” Melonas said. “There was no release of product.”

It was the first incident in the state involving an oil train, he said.