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Competing bills to address safety of oil transport

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2014 at 8:04 pm •  Published: February 10, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington lawmakers on Monday considered competing measures that try to address potential risks as more crude oil is shipped by rail into the state.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on a mostly Republican-backed bill that would study the safety of transporting oil and hazardous materials by train, including reviewing gaps in local, state and federal oil-spill response.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee took testimony on a competing Democratic-sponsored bill that is favored by environmental groups who say it provides more transparency and calls for more immediate action.

The movement of oil into and through Washington state is changing dramatically as more crude oil from the Bakken shales of North Dakota arrives by train and creates potential risk for new areas of the state, such as along the Columbia River.

The state for years has received crude oil from Alaska and elsewhere by ship, barges or pipelines, but trains carrying crude oil started arriving at terminals in Tacoma and Anacortes only in the past year or so.

Facilities are being proposed at the ports of Grays Harbor and Vancouver to handle hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil by rail. And oil tanker traffic traveling through state waters could also increase under a Kinder Morgan Canada proposal to triple the amount of crude oil it sends through its Trans Mountain pipeline to the Vancouver, British Columbia, area.

"We need to be prepared for these new risks," said Bruce Wishart of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance who testified Monday in support of the House bill.

House Bill 2347 authorizes the state Department of Ecology to come up with new rules requiring tug escorts for oil tankers entering Grays Harbor and the Columbia River. It also would require refineries and other facilities that receive oil shipments by vessels or rail cars to submit transit data to the Ecology Department. Some who testified about the bill last month worried that tug escorts would create navigational hazards, among other concerns.

"Fundamentally, the public has the right to know how much and where that oil is coming from so they can have appropriate disaster response," the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, said in an interview.

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