SEATTLE — Washington and Oregon environmental regulators said Tuesday that regional coordination and planning exercises such as drills aided in their response to the fiery train derailment along the Columbia River earlier this month.
The Northwest officials briefed their counterparts from other states on the June 3 train accident in Mosier, Oregon, at the annual meeting of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force in Seattle.
The task force — consisting of members from British Columbia, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii — collects and shares data on oil spills, works together on oil spill prevention projects and promotes regulatory safeguards.
They were in Seattle to share knowledge and update each other on their spill response programs and other projects.
Dale Jensen, Washington’s Ecology spills program manager, says the Oregon derailment is a reminder of how vulnerable the region is to oil spills and underscores the need for states and federal agencies to continue to work together to improve spill prevention and response.
In British Columbia, regulators said they have effectively used drones to assess the extent of a tanker truck crash that spilled diesel fuel near Mount Robson National Park. Wes Shoemaker, Deputy Minister of British Columbia Ministry of Environment, said drones can be an effective tool to assess downstream effects of a spill.
Bruce Gilles, who manages the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s cleanup and emergency response program, told the meeting that “we couldn’t have been luckier” during the Oregon derailment.
Strong winds typically blow through the Columbia River Gorge but not that day the trains derailed, with four cars catching fire. He also said that there are sections of the railroad that runs adjacent to the river, but the train crashed in an area that was farther away from the river.
Just several months earlier, more than a dozen agencies participated in a national oil-spill response drill that was based on a scenario where a landslide had caused a 100-unit oil train to spill about 450,000 gallons of oil into the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon.
Jensen highlighted the dramatic changes in the way oil is shipped through Washington state, noting an uptick in rail transport of oil. In 2011, no Bakken crude oil was shipped by rail compared with about 2.55 billion gallons in 2015.
Washington lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring railroads to come up with oil spill contingency plans; it also require facilities that receive oil to provide the state with advance notice of oil shipments. New rules are expected later this year.
California also has a similar oil spill contingency planning requirement for railroads.
“What we get out of this is new knowledge,” Jensen said. “We’re always looking ahead. We’re always anticipating what the potential is and working very, very hard to be as prepared as we can.”