Oil Trains In The Northwest

Herrera Beutler Pushes More Oil Train Spill Planning

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Vancouver, Washington April 22, 2016 7:21 p.m.
Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of southwest Washington.

Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of southwest Washington.

Courtesy of Jaime Herrera Beutler's office

Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has introduced a bill that would help firefighters around the country get grant money for oil train derailment and accident planning.


The bill doesn’t actually call for more dollars. Instead, it would create a higher priority for funding plans in communities where oil trains regularly travel.

“Someone needs to coordinate and connect them all — and they’re trying — but they don’t just have extra money lying around for someone to do the big picture planning for a major disaster,” the Republican congresswoman said Friday while touring a fire station in east Vancouver.

Herrera Beutler referenced the proposed Vancouver Energy Project, which if built would move 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Port of Vancouver. She said regardless of whether that project gets permitted and built, hazardous materials are moving by train through Vancouver, Camas and other towns in along the Columbia River Gorge and Southwest Washington.

“These oil trains come through here, whether they get permitted to offload or not, they’re still coming through,” she said. “We have to deal with it as a community and I want us to be as well prepared as possible in the event a horrible thing happens.”


Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said his department is staffed to deal with an accident involving some hazardous materials, but not something as massive as a potential oil train derailment. That, he said, would require help from surrounding agencies.

“We think we have a pretty good response for a normal hazmat incident, but what we’re seeing now with these [high-hazard flammable trains] is that a derailment occurs an average of 13 cars are typically derailed,” he said.

“One of those cars puncturing and igniting is equivalent to three and a half gasoline tanker trucks," Molina said. "So with 13, you can do the math … that’s something that we’re not used to seeing.”

Molina said a coordination plan could cost as much as $300,000. It would assess things like the potential risks, the resources available and the level of training.

Once departments know what they have, he said, it’s easier to address potential gaps to a response.

“While we often get training and equipment fairly easily from grants, planning is just one of those things that never gets weighted high enough,” Molina said. “Our view is that a plan should be first and then training and equipment should be asked for to support the plan.”

The bill in currently before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Herrera Beutler said it will likely also go before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She also said it’s possible it could get attached to the Homeland Security Appropriation Bill that will likely come to a vote this fall.