SEATTLE – City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and all eight of his council colleagues signed a letter calling for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to issue an emergency order prohibiting the shipment of Bakken crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank train cars. Bakken is highly flammable and easily ignited at normal temperatures by heat, static discharges, sparks or flames, and vapors which may form explosive mixtures with air and spread along confined areas such as sewers. The Seattle City Council is the first in the country to support the petition, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics.
The corresponding letter highlights the O’Brien-sponsored oil train Resolution 31504, which was signed by Mayor Ed Murray and adopted by Council in February. O’Brien’s resolution urged Secretary Anthony Foxx to aggressively phase out older model tank cars used to move flammable liquids that are not retrofitted to meet new federal requirements. Following the explosion of DOT-111 train cars in Quebec, which killed 47 men, women and children, Canada immediately took action to begin phasing-out of the DOT-111 cars.
“Dozens of people have died in crude-by-rail accidents when DOT-111 tank cars were punctured and spilled flammable crude,” said O’Brien. “The catastrophic explosions can be triggered by a single spark and yet they travel on tracks underneath downtown and flanking both Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. Seattle cannot afford to sit idly by with public safety in our city at risk.”
Earlier today the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new rules that would phase out the use of the DOT-111 cars in two years. City Council’s letter in support of the EarthJustice petition seeks to protect the public from oil spills and explosions now. According to the letter: “Banning the shipment of highly flammable crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank cars is necessary to abate the unsafe conditions posing an imminent hazard to human life, communities, and the environment.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, areas up to one-half mile or more from an accident site are considered vulnerable. An incident requiring warning, evacuation or rescue could easily affect the more than 600,000 people living and working in densely populated sections of Seattle.
BNSF Railway reports moving 8-13 oil trains per week through Seattle, all containing 1,000,000 or more gallons of Bakken crude. Many of the City of Seattle’s public safety concerns were highlighted in the April 2014 testimony of Seattle’s Director of Office of Emergency Management before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies in the Committee on Appropriations.