Why New Improved Oil Trains Are Not Nearly Good Enough

A closer look at the many flaws of CPC-1232 tank cars.

Lac-Mégantic tank car by NTSB (Public domain photo.)

Last February to much fanfare, the oil company Tesoro—a firm with big plans for oil trains in the Northwest—announced that it would voluntarily replace older tank cars with newer models. More recently, the Shell Refinery at Anacortes promised to use these same tank cars at its planned oil train site. In the In the parlance of industry, they meant that they would upgrade or replace the legacy DOT-111 tank cars to be compliant with the CPC-1232 standard.

The idea sounded promising at first blush, but a closer inspection reveals that Tesoro’s move was more about posturing than public safety. The upgraded standards the company is trumpeting are far from safe enough—a reality that was shortly made clear by a massive oil train fire in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia involving these same tank cars just two months after Tesoro’s announcement. As the flaming oil wreckage in the James River demonstrated, Tesoro’s proposal was little more than a cheapskate’s way of continuing business as usual despite powerful evidence that much more is needed. Read more »

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Northwest Oil Spills: the Raw Data and the Growing Risk

Planned projects in US and Canada would dramatically increase spills.

When most people think of an oil spill, they imagine something like the Exxon Valdez grounding. While it’s certainly possible that a mishap of that magnitude could occur in the Northwest, the truth is most oil spills are far more mundane. They are also much more frequent, and arguably more damaging, than you might think.

Take Puget Sound, for example. During the 38-month span from December 2009 to January 2013, there were 757 confirmed spills in the Sound—nearly 20 per month. Accidental bilge discharges, overfilling fuel tanks, and a rather surprising number of vessels sinking—four different pleasure boats sank and spilled oil in December 2011 alone—are common. Every now and again we might here about a peculiar one, like the 416 gallons spilled when crews loaded diesel into a leaky tank barge or the 36 crushed cars that fell into Commencement Bay, but most often they receive little media attention. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 1/23/15

Being poor is really expensive, Canada's racism problem, and more.
Original illustration by Nina Montenegro of ghosttide.com.


This was news to me (the German history, not the “old as love itself” part). And fascinating: “although same-sex love is as old as love itself, the public discourse around it, and the political movement to win rights for it, arose in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s response to Obama’s SOTU speech: Where was he when it mattered?

Recent polling found that most wealthy Americans believe “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” As Charles M. Blow writes in the NYT, this impression is way off base, not to mention offensive and callous. Read more »

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Seattle’s Downtown School Is Back in Play

School board now "enthusiastic" to bid on Federal Reserve Bank building.

The prospects for a downtown Seattle school brightened yesterday, with a unanimous school board vote allowing the district to bid on the empty Federal Reserve Bank building at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Spring Street.

The federal government is auctioning off the vacant building—which is the right size to house 660 students—to the highest bidder. With the auction closing next Wednesday, no one has submitted a bid so far. But the school district may have competition—at least one other entity has paid the auction’s $100,000 registration fee, officials have said.

The feds reduced the minimum bid from $5 million to $1 million last week, and buying the building outright would remove timing and funding issues that were earlier stumbling blocks for the district. Read more »

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Rain gardens could make runoff safe for salmon

Filtering polluted stormwater through soil makes it non-lethal for fish.

How the Oil Industry Will Try to Kill Carbon Pricing

Is the sky falling? No, gas prices are.

Northwest Ships: Near Misses and Almost-Spills

Two dozen times when we avoided catastrophe, narrowly.

Weekend Reading 1/16/15

Macklemore on Sesame Street, one dog's solo bus commute, and more.

Which Washington Legislators Take the Most Coal, Oil, and Gas Money?

For fossil fuel companies, the winners are…

Understanding the North American Tar Sands

What it takes to "Fight Goliath": a radio documentary.