Revised: Oil Transportation Safety

My bedroom window overlooks the Auburn valley where the BNSF rail yard is sited. I often hear them switching the trains at night. If you’ve ever heard a mile-long train change direction, you’d remember the sound: a long, low boom. I’m worried that one day soon, I might hear an even bigger boom like the one that blasted the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon a couple of weeks ago. There were three oil train derailments within a 72 hour period this month, reminding us of the tragedy in Canada in 2013 that killed 47 people. A disaster like that can happen here in Auburn if we don’t take action now.

More trains mean greater risk. The Bakken oil rush has increased the number of carloads of oil to 435,000 per year in 2013. That’s 45 times the number of tankers moved in 2008. The oil companies are not removing highly explosive gases such as ethane, propane and butane before shipping the oil in rail cars, making these tankers, even the newer CPC-1232 tankers that were involved in all three of the most recent derailments, nothing more than rolling bombs that travel through our cities near our schools, hospitals and businesses.

The Interurban Trail runs through Auburn next to the rail lines. When I ride my bike there, I’ve often seen a dad teaching his daughter to ride. The increased risk of the little girl getting asthma or cancer from diesel fumes aside, if there were an explosion, in whose ledger would her death be an acceptable loss? Balanced against what? A few dozen jobs at an oil terminal? Oil company profits?

Adjacent to the bike trail is a new Environmental Park. We’re trying to reclaim and restore wetlands damaged by excessive and poorly planned development in the Valley. If tar sands oil spills into those wetlands, habitat for birds and fish will be irreparably damaged. Heavy tar sands oil (diluted bitumen, or dilbit) is as thick as peanut butter; dilbit sinks in water and cannot be completely cleaned up. A healthy ecosystem and beautiful lakes and rivers bring tourists and business to Washington State. Oil transport puts all that at risk.

We can’t let multinational oil giants use Washington State as a doormat. They want to run roughshod over us in the name of profit, selling dirty fossil fuels to China and the rest of Asia. Fossil fuels that modern climate science tells us are best left where they are: in the ground.

Financial responsibility for spills and infrastructure improvements must be assumed by the companies shipping these highly explosive and toxic fuels; taxpayers should not be forced to pay for the damage of an explosion or a spill.

Please call or write your State Senator and tell them, “Protect your constituents, not oil company profits.”
The legislative hotline is 1 (800) 562-6000.

by Brian L. Gunn, 31st District Precinct Officer, King County/Auburn