More than 100 people who filled city hall to overflowing to hear about oil-by-rail safety and emergency preparedness were told there’s no way to prevent oil trains from coming through Skagit County.
The two-hour meeting Wednesday night was organized by City Council members Liz Lovelett and Ryan Walters in an effort to better inform citizens about moving oil by rail through the county and to the two refineries located on March’s Point.
Representatives of both refineries delivered remarks on their efforts at safety, along with a spokeswoman from BNSF railroad and a representative of the state Department of Ecology and the county Department of Emergency Management.
But, what might have startled the audience was when Congressman Rick Larsen, in answer to a question, said there isn’t any way to prevent oil shipment by rail. He explained that railroads are common carriers and as such are not able to pick and choose what cargo they carry. He said that oil could be carried by trucks or pipeline, even of railroads didn’t carry it.
Larsen said, “The pathway forward is to address the very real safety issues associated with oil by rail.”
The discussion followed by a matter of hours a new BNSF derailment in North Dakota that was carrying Bakken crude of the type being shipped to March’s Point. Six oil cars, of the same type bringing oil here, exploded and burned.
BNSF representative Courteney Wallace, when asked why derailments keep happening, answered that the railroad is always looking at what happenes and tries to learn something from each accident. She added that the North Dakota accident was still being investigated.
Anacortes Fire Chief Richard Curtis was asked about city plans in case of an accident. He pointed out that the refineries are not in the city limits. He did say that, considering the city’s limited fire staff, that should a rail car explode and burn, he would probably attempt to cool down adjacent rail cars and let the one burning, burn itself out.