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Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
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A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:02Emma Gilchrist
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Columbia River Coal Pollution Lawsuit Against BNSF Railway Moves Forward As New Research Raises Air Quality Concerns On Seattle Rail Lines

A lawsuit against the BNSF Railway Company will proceed after the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected the company’s motion to dismiss a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and six other groups.

The Riverkeepers say BNSF trains are spilling coal into the Columbia River while en route to the coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Wash., and Canadian ports for export. A video shows the organization’s executive director Brett VandenHeuvel finding piles of coal along the river and holding a flask of coal-polluted water.

Coal contains arsenic, mercury and lead, which pollute water and harm aquatic life. According to BNSF’s own calculations, coal trains can lose 500 pounds of coal from each car.

If plans to export more coal to Asia from Oregon, Washington and B.C. go ahead, up to 20 more coal trains a day would travel along the Columbia River, according to Columbia Riverkeeper.

The court’s ruling comes shortly after scientists at the University of Washington published a groundbreaking study on air quality impacts from train traffic in Washington State. The study was published in the international journal Atmospheric Pollution Research.

The scientists, who raised money for their research from the public, tracked particulate matter, linked to heart attack, stroke, respiratory problems and lung damage. They found living close to rail lines significantly increases one’s exposure to particulate matter.

Thu, 2012-11-08 16:38Brendan DeMelle
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Bill McKibben Kicks Off 350.org Do The Math Tour In Seattle

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Seattle kickoff of 350.org's Do The Math tour, which will highlight the imperative for action to keep 80 percent of the fossil fuel industries' tar sands, coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground, or the climate is toast.

Bill McKibben and a cast of guests, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and City Councilman Mike O'Brien, along with video appearances by Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Josh Fox and more, called on the roughly 2,000 attendees packed into Benaroya Hall to join together to encourage institutions large and small to divest all fossil fuel companies from their stock portfolios, pension funds, and other holdings.

The tour seeks to inspire citizen-led boycotts, blockades, marches on oil companies' shareholder meetings, and a new Fossil Free Campus divestment movement modeled after the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1980s.

The message is simple: Go Fossil Free. McKibben was the first to say, it is a tall order, perhaps impossible, but we have no choice but to try given global warming's terrifying new math.

Mayor McGinn kicked the night off with a pledge to investigate the potential for Seattle to work towards divestment of its fossil fuel holdings, which received massive applause from the audience. 

Before McKibben took the stage, The UpTake's Leif Utne had the chance to interview him about the 21-day, 21-city tour that will demonstrate the magnitude of the threat fossil fuels pose to a livable planet, the opportunity Tuesday's election results pose, and a bold new strategy to hit the fossil fuel industries where it hurts.

 Watch:

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