Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.
The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.
The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.
The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.
But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.
Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.
Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.
The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.
The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.