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Washington’s first-ever railroad oil-spill response plan approved

BNSF Railway Company is the largest railroad operating in Washington. Here are their lines, shown in orange, courtesy of the Department of Ecology.

LACEY, Washington – The Washington Department of Ecology approved the state’s first oil spill response plan on Thursday for the BNSF Railway Company, which is the largest freight railroad company in the state.

BNSF owns 1,332 miles of track in the state and delivers oil to refineries at Cherry Point and Ferndale, truck racks in Seattle and Spokane, and terminals in Anacortes and Pasco.

“This plan is a significant step forward for the protection of Washington’s communities and environment,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology spills prevention program manager. “Oil by rail has expanded significantly in recent years, and it’s imperative railroad companies are prepared to work with the state to respond to a spill in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner.”

In 2017, railroad companies moved approximately 2 billion gallons of crude oil through Washington travelling through local communities, along major highways, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. Railroads accounted for approximately 25 percent of all crude oil moving through the state.

Under the 2015 Oil Transportation Safety Act, Ecology now requires rail lines to have contingency plans that guarantee they can respond to a spill quickly and effectively. This is the same requirement the state has for vessels, pipelines, and oil facilities.

Washington joins California as the only two West Coast states to require oil spill contingency plans for railroad operators. Railroads in most states follow federal regulations that emphasize safety, but do not include requirements for oil spill response readiness.

Ecology is currently working on oil spill contingency plans with eight railroad companies that transport oil in Washington. Three of them, including BNSF, transport unrefined crude oil.

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