Two new bills intended to protect the environment and communities from oil train disasters have been introduced in the Oregon legislature with strong support among environmentalists, Native American leaders, and others who believe not enough is being done to prevent or at least limit oil-train derailments and spills.
Support for the bills has been fueled largely by the June 3 Union Pacific oil train derailment near Mosier, Oregon, which contaminated pristine forested areas with highly toxic and volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. The spill and fire occurred alongside tracks paralleling the Columbia River, a swift-moving, cold-water salmon habitat that provides food to Indian tribes. Any spill of Bakken oil in such a river would likely remain for decades.
Advocates of the bills say that they know oil trains have to transect Oregon and that future spills will happen, but with better measures in place, the state and communities can be prepared and have systems in place to minimize the damage.
One of the bills would require railroads with high-hazard oil train routes to undertake oil-spill prevention and emergency-response planning, according to the Associated Press. It would also require that the railroad carry enough insurance to cover costs and damages a worst-case spill would incur.
According to the AP, the bill says that “a railroad must, within one hour of confirmation of a spill, provide a qualified company employee to advise the state on-scene coordinator. Within three hours, it should have monitoring equipment and a trained equipment operator to assist in protecting emergency responders and the public. Within eight hours, the railroad should be capable of delivering and deploying containment booms, boats, oil recovery equipment, trained staff and other materials.”
The other bill seeks to prohibit lawmakers from funding new bulk coal and oil terminals, the AP reported.
“Our tiny town was nearly wiped off the map,” Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns told the House Committee on Energy and Environment, explaining that had the winds in the Columbia River Gorge not been strong that day, the fire from the oil trains could have been catastrophic.
The Mosier oil spill contaminated the groundwater with toxic concentrations of benzene and other volatile organic compounds near the derailment site. Scientists measured benzene at the site at 1,800 parts per billion, while the safe threshold for fish exposed to benzene is 130 parts per billion.