Tacoma, “NW city most threatened by oil trains”

Earlier this week an article appeared on Sightline Daily that should give all Tacomans pause for thought. Author Eric de Place sums it up like this: 

"Tacoma ... is now the Northwest city most threatened by oil trains."

This is not good news.

That danger comes from the volume of oil traveling through Tacoma by rail, and the risk that one of those trains could derail. The bad fallout of such a wreck would only be compounded by the financial burden the City of Tacoma would bear if a derailment occured.

According to de Place, facilities in the Tacoma Tide Flats receive an about 80,000 barrels of crude oil each day (averaging out to more than one train every day), and there's the potential for more. Add in nearly twice that amount (15 trains each week) that passes through on its way north to other refinery facilities, and we're seeing a pretty high volume of fairly hazardous freight traffic.

There have been more than a dozen explosive derailments of oil trains across North America in the last two years, but beyond the truly scary, and very real danger from these trains, Tacoma also bears another kind of risk: Tacoma Rail is publicly-owned. That means that if a derailment were to occur, the City of Tacoma would be financially responsible for such an accident.

Just one oil train derailment could bankrupt the City.

Putting aside the death and destruction these incidents cause, and focusing just on the cold numbers, a derailment could cost up to $5 billion in an urban area like Tacoma. Tacoma Rail is only insured to $60 million. Even a moderate-sized leak could easily exhaust that limit, de Place writes. And because Tacoma Rail is publicly-owned, that cost would be passed along to the City... and its taxpayers.

Link to the Sightline article for more.


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Comments

pie-in-sky

Sometimes I wonder if Tacoma and Pierce county should restore the Puyallup River estuary, close JBLM, and just completely re-boot its economic strategy.  It would be highly disruptive, but the place would probably end up better off in 20 or 30 years down the line…

July 10, 2015 at 11:15 am / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 3

Dave

It’s disappointing to see Exit 133 incuriously parroting a bunch of histrionic, made-up BS.

July 10, 2015 at 9:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 11

RHTCCComedyfanRegistered

How about a Petroleum dependence tax to cover a potential $5 billion in a rail disaster insurance rather than the $60 million in what is currently insured for.Petroleum is used for all sorts of things and not just motor vehicle fuels like say for consumer goods,prescription drugs,fertilizers etc.However most of these goods are transported by motor vehicles and purchased by consumers using motor vehicles.If we could lessen our (addiction) dependence the insurance costs would go down.Perhaps a local 10 cents per gallon petroleum, (addiction) dependence tax might do it at local area (Tacoma) fuel stations or maybe say 20 cents per gallon say for diesel or gasoline or maybe even on propane as well.This is just an example of a proposal.
If you ride a bicycle instead then no tax.If you walk no tax but if you drive you’re using a mobile fossil fuel based anthropocene species extinction machine and you should be taxed more and more for more problems and destruction in the world that you create.
Tax those whom create the problems- a simple concept

July 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 4

Garrett

Dave, you may be right (or wrong). However, you need to do the hard work of typing what specifically is inaccurate in the article.  “The whole thing!” etc. doesn’t really count as discourse. Ad hominem only detracts from your position.

July 12, 2015 at 7:39 am / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 1

John Johnson

Certainly a concern for many residents, and good to surface it for public discussion; however, this was a hack copy-cut-paste job from a questionable source, so I’m going to have to side with David.

For starters, there is little evidence other than the self-generated “research” report to qualify T Town as “...now the Northwest city most threatened by oil trains.” Ok, so the “reporter” is also the primary researcher- not exactly the model of objectivity typically credited with actual journalism. In this regard, parroting indeed.

The “article” goes on to make very large unsubstantiated claims regarding billion dollar risk; why the roughly 1.5 mile transfer at low speeds is somehow higher risk under Tacoma Rail’s supervision than a BNSF train travelling at speed by Titlow or UP is somehow worse; the risk grows from billion to multi-billion in the “article” without explanation; oh and by the end of the “article” it then qualifies Spokane, Camas, Vancouver as actually having higher rates of oil traffic. Just doesn’t track- pun intended.

So yes, do some due diligence, at least make an attempt to triangulate the data, and don’t just repost caca that feigns journalism & backs up its headlines with self-generated “research.” Great balance of coverage, too btw- claiming in the name of Tacoma & our protection, yet you couldn’t even reach out to a City spokesperson or a local Rail official? Fail. Sorry the 133 audience is thinking critically.

July 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 3

Dan

The article presents a terrifying reality. This sounds like a no win situation. I imagine the utility would face huge economic consequences if they refused to pick up oil trains from the BNSF main line, with the refineries certain to sue. Purchasing a $billion+ insurance policy would undoubtedly be well beyond the operating budget of such a small railroad. My guess is that the best we could do is invest in making the track leading to the terminals the highest quality possible, add a significant risk surcharge to change the economics of the refineries purchasing oil by rail and hope that if anything ever did happen, the federal government would step up with significant disaster relief.

July 12, 2015 at 9:03 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 4

Lowell

Yes, oil trains are hazardous, but the idea that Tacoma faces more danger than any other city is completely false.  The trains are brought to and through Tacoma by BNSF railroad, on the Portland to Seattle main line.  BNSF is a class one railroad owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which has very deep pockets.

Tacoma Rail takes the trains from BNSF across the tide flats a couple of miles to the local oil facilities.  That is done at very low speeds, around 10-20 MPH.  At such speeds, a derailment isn’t likely to cause much more than some torn up track and a little dust.  Tacoma Rail has almost zero chance for a major accident and liability.

Trains have been carrying materials far more hazardous than crude oil through Tacoma since the late 19th century.

We, as a nation, have a choice to make.  We can either ship domestically produced oil by rail and pipeline, or we can go back to >$5 a gallon gas and fight wars in the middle east.  The fact is that, right now, we need the oil. 

My vote would be to keep improving on train safety and start building more pipelines, while working on alternative sources of energy for the future.  Histrionics and paranoia will get us nowhere.

July 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

5 | 5

thackerspeedRegistered

Crisis is normal. Complexity can be fun. Why shouldn’t Tacoma contribute to the national effort toward energy-independence? Is it mostly because of a lack of confidence in people or technology? Down With Brains! Down With Trains!

Let’s take a head count of who wants to replace Tacoma’s tank farm with a commercial nuclear power plant. Majority Rules!

July 14, 2015 at 7:25 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 1

Cat 5

Even if true the risk is entirely within acceptable parameters. 

The bottom is this:  The American progressive movement is concerned that the ability to develop, transport and market domestic fossil fuel resources will have a negative effect on their allies ability to get top dollar for the oil inventory they are sitting on.  The progressive movement is totally invested in increasing innocent human suffering, misery and death and will oppose any and all domestic energy production, transport and marketing because none of that money gets to their friends in ISIS and other terrorist States operating in the middle east. 

Never concede “good intentions” to progressives, it is never warranted

July 14, 2015 at 8:18 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 3

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