BELLINGHAM, Washington — A refinery in northwest Washington state says it will no longer accept any volatile North Dakota crude oil unless it arrives on newer-model tank cars.
By the first week of October, the BP Cherry Point facility had stopped using pre-2011 standard tank cars, known as DOT-111 cars, for the shipments, The Bellingham Herald reported (http://is.gd/XmHxHN ).
The change comes amid public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen the older 70,000-gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fireballs. A train carrying Bakken-formation crude from North Dakota in the older tanks crashed in a Quebec town last year, killing 47 people.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which recommended upgraded regulations for crude oil and ethanol cars in 2011, is working on updating rail safety standards and could require companies to phase out the DOT-111 cars for shipping crude oil during the next couple of years
Cherry Point was already using newer, safer tank cars to receive about 60 percent of its crude oil, but expedited the switch to the newer cars in response to community concerns, BP spokesman Bill Kidd said. The refinery now uses a fleet of about 700 newer cars, called CPC-1232s.
The newer cars have thicker shells, head shields on both ends and improved valve protection.
But Matt Krogh, of the group ForestEthics, which has sued the U.S. Department of Transportation over the shipment of volatile crude oil in older railroad tank cars, told The Associated Press on Saturday that there's little evidence the newer tank cars will truly prevent explosive spills. He argued that the newer cars are tested at slower speeds than the speed at which most derailments occur, and he noted that it was one of the CPC-1232s that exploded in a fireball during a derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia, in April.
Krogh called switching to the newer cars "a red herring."
"It's a marginal improvement, but it's nowhere near safe," he said. "They're essentially grasping at straws to convince people that they can do it safely. I don't think you can safely and profitably run trains of crude."
Trains carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota have been supplying Washington refineries at Tacoma, Anacortes and Cherry Point. Oil-train export terminals are proposed at Vancouver and Grays Harbor on the Washington coast.
About 70 percent of the crude-oil rail cars that BNSF Railway currently moves through Washington state are already the newer design, railway spokesman Gus Melonas said.
For two decades, the Cherry Point refinery received crude oil only by pipeline, Kidd said. It later added shipments by sea.
But Alaskan crude oil has turned into the last type the refinery is interested in because of the higher price. Crude oil from mid-continent shale formations has become a cheaper option for the refinery, Kidd said.
"It's completely turned the industry on its head," Kidd said. "Without access to crude by rail, this refinery cannot compete."
Refinery Manager Bob Allendorfer said the facility is always going to be progressive when it comes to safety. "Safety is always first, and you have to get it right," Allendorfer said.
Information from: The Bellingham Herald, http://www.bellinghamherald.com