Shipping crude via rail is under the microscope these days – and for good reason. With derailments causing explosions, damages, injuries and deaths, the safety of oil traveling on rail is getting an increased level of scrutiny.
In one case, an owner of an oil train terminal near Clatskanie, OR, will pay a reduced fine for moving six times more crude oil through the facility in 2013 than regulators would allow.
Massachusetts-based Global Partners will pay $102,292 as part of a settlement with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the state’s top environmental regulator. That’s $15,000 less than the agency originally proposed last year.
DEQ reduced the fine because the agency believed it could prove Global acted negligently in exceeding the limits but not intentionally, said Jenny Root, a DEQ environmental law specialist. The initial fine considered the violation intentional.
Global admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
DEQ is requiring $82,000 of the penalty to go toward replacing 16 to 20 high-polluting residential wood stoves with modern versions. That money will go to a nonprofit, Community Action Team Inc., and end up spent in Columbia and Clatsop counties.
Ed Faneuil, Global’s general counsel, said the company disagreed with the penalty but was happy to have the issue resolved. It “allows us to keep our full focus on our reinvestment in the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery and creating jobs and economic opportunity for the region,” he said.
The facility began operating as an ethanol fuel terminal, but went bankrupt in 2009. In June 2012, the DEQ quickly approved a routine permit change that allowed it to start moving crude oil instead of ethanol.
But the DEQ set a limit: 50 million gallons of crude oil annually could move from trains onto barges bound for West Coast refineries.
The terminal blew past that limit in 2013, moving nearly 300 million gallons of oil. DEQ said the facility committed a “serious violation” of state environmental law by operating without the right permit.
The way DEQ handled the permit change allowed oil trains to show up in Oregon without the public knowing they were coming.
Without any debate, volatile North Dakota crude oil began moving through Portland, Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier in late 2012, introducing risks for which Oregon still hasn’t fully prepared.
Planning and readiness have continued to lag, despite the dangers posed by numerous accidents involving oil trains. Four have exploded in the United States and Canada in just the last five weeks.
The Legislature will soon consider a bill to require railroads to pay for spill planning and the supplies that first responders need for oil train accidents.