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Railroad And Oil Refineries Sign Mutual Aid Agreement To Respond To Accidents

Matthew Brown/AP Photo

BNSF Railway and oil refineries in Washington are teaming up to better respond to accidents.  The railroad and BP Cherry Point, Phillips 66, Shell Oil Products US, Tesoro Companies and U.S. Oil Refining Company have allsigned the agreement.

But, environmentalists say it doesn't address safety problems with oil trains.

Courtney Wallace, spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, says the mutual aid agreement formalizes what the railroads and refineries have already been doing informally.

“If there was an accident or an incident on the railroad and we needed assistance we could call the refineries because they have extensive equipment, they have extensive experience,” Wallace said.

That experience includes expertise in handling hazardous materials. And, Wallace says, if there’s an explosion or accident at a refinery,  B-N-S-F would send help.

Rebecca Ponzio, with the Washington Environmental Council, says agreement between the refineries and railroad doesn't do anything about the underlying problems with oil trains.

“You know, better coordination and having this mutual aid agreement does not truly address the risk,” Ponzio said.

She says those risks come from mile long trains hauling highly flammable crude oil. Environmental organizations are pushing for stronger regulations that they say would prevent accidents in the first place.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.