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Friday, July 18, 2014

Could You Get Blown Up by an Oil Train Crash in Seattle? Check This Map

Posted by on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 3:11 PM

  • Forest Ethics
  • The red area shows the half-mile Department of Transportation (DOT) evacuation zone for oil train derailments, according to ForestEthics. Yellow shows the one-mile DOT "potential impact zone in case of oil train fire."
Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country. Little do the hordes (at least regionally, according to polls) flocking to our town know, however, that our attractive quality of life comes with the hidden risk of sudden incineration by explosion.

The map above, assembled by the environmentalists at ForestEthics, shows the federal evacuation and "impact" zones in the event of an oil train derailment in Seattle, tracking the path of our railroads. As I reported in February:

Last July, the town center of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec was incinerated, killing 47 people, when a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Formation region derailed.

"Its cars collided, triggering a series of deafening explosions, unleashing a river of burning oil and fast-moving walls of fire, heat so scorching that even days later, recovery workers could only work in 15-minute shifts," the New York Times wrote in a year-end obituary.

Every week, about a dozen of these trains pass through downtown Seattle carrying the same type of highly flammable oil in the same sort of unsafe tank cars that exploded in Quebec. They pass both sports stadiums and enter a tunnel directly under Pike Place Market. And if the oil and rail industries get their way, by the time the Seahawks play their opening game at CenturyLink Field next September, there could be as many as 15 to 16 of these potentially explosive oil trains passing through each week, according to estimates from the Sightline Institute. That's up from zero oil trains two years ago.

The national, interactive version of the map is here. Have an awesome weekend!


Comments (27) RSS

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kk in seattle 1
Gee, how did I know this was an Anzel Herz post?
Posted by kk in seattle on July 18, 2014 at 3:22 PM · Report this
JonnoN 2
@1 it says his name at the top.
Posted by JonnoN on July 18, 2014 at 3:26 PM · Report this
@2 Not if you came to it via Facebook.
Posted by JFP on July 18, 2014 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 4
You know what else would suck? The Yellowstone Caldera blowing up. Do you have a handy dandy interactive disaster map for that?
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on July 18, 2014 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on July 18, 2014 at 3:57 PM · Report this
How about a map showing where you're at risk for being blown up in a natural gas explosion? Oh right--the entire city.
Posted by tiktok on July 18, 2014 at 4:12 PM · Report this
@4 Choosing to live among natural hazards isn't quite the same as someone bringing new hazard to your neighborhood because their business model demands it.
Posted by anon1256 on July 18, 2014 at 4:15 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
What @8 said - and if we chose not to accelerate Global Warming by exporting coal, oil, and gas to China and Japan our risk won't go up
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2014 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Between getting blown up by an oil train, being eaten by juvenile white sharks, or getting molested at Disneyland, we'll be lucky to make it to the end of the year alive.
Posted by GermanSausage on July 18, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Report this
The Dot-111 tanker car is not suited for hauling watered down skim milk. It should go, but it is not the main reason for the violent and deadly explosions that have occurred in the last 12 months. The newer 1242 model cracked open during the Lynchburg derailment going 24 mph.

And, there can never be enough inspections and upgrades of the railroad tracks, and oversight of train movements, but we've been trying to keep trains on the tracks in this country for nearly 200 years, and there were still over 1,250 derailments in the U.S. in 2013. Everything helps, but trains will continue to derail.

The explosions; the 300 foot fireballs, walls of fire, incinerated buildings, vaporized humans, fouled water, and poisoned soil...are primarily due to one simple fact, and it has to stop...

Years ago; Bakken oil producers made a business decision to not strip the NGL's from the crude before shipping; AKA "stabilization." They deliberately chose not to remove the heptane, pentane, methane, propane, butane, ethane, isobutane, and, so on, from the crude oil, before filling the tanker cars. They make more money if they ship it all.

They picked a few extra bucks, over the lives of people. Greed. Why North Dakota allowed it for so long...we can only speculate.

North Dakota Leaders, if there are any, need to take immediate responsibility for the Bakken oil train explosions, and the safety of U.S. citizens, by mandating Bakken producers to separate the explosive NGL's from the crude, or burn them off, before the next Lac-Megantic. Not after.
Posted by rschalow on July 18, 2014 at 4:43 PM · Report this
I'm in Interbay, so kiss my ass goodbye😎
Posted by pat L on July 18, 2014 at 4:52 PM · Report this
MyNameIsNobody 14
No doubt the oil trains pose a serious risk, but this map is way too simplistic. I haven't looked closely at other regions, but in Seattle there is no difference between the impact zones for the surface alignments and the downtown tunnel. They've simply buffered all the oil routes with the same distances. No accounting for tunnels or topography.
Posted by MyNameIsNobody on July 18, 2014 at 5:02 PM · Report this
snoopy 15
wow @11 deadly molestations at Disneyland? I thought we were talking about oil transport by trains...
tho I suppose if this were a movie about that train blowing up we'd be right on target with GermanSausage getting incinerated only fifteen minutes into the movie... *phfffffftt* gone.

Man made catastrophes are just that: man made. ...with the added potential of natural. Think of an earthquake... we do live in a fault zone. Why pile on with oil laden trains?
Posted by snoopy on July 18, 2014 at 5:13 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 16
I'll never understand the instinct on the part of some people to constantly want to rim job corporate America - particularly when corporate America is spewing diarrhea like this.

But I'll play along and point out that if one of these trains explodes in our area, at the very least the Port of Seattle and Boeing will be screwed, and traffic will be even worse, as that Boeing and Port traffic is forced into the roads. If it were to explode in the Great Northern tunnel, it could be catastrophic for the entire downtown area.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on July 18, 2014 at 5:35 PM · Report this
This is a REAL threat to our beautiful state, and all rail communities dissected by the infrastructurally weakened BNSF tracks. I live in a high risk area north of Seattle.
This must be stopped! Fuck what Big Business "demands"!
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 18, 2014 at 5:40 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 18
Most of Seattle is under the main approach to Seatac. And of course there are thousands of miles of streets with cars driving on them at all hours. And did you know that gaslines run underground everywhere?

The world is full of risk. Unless you can demonstrate that there's a likelihood that a derailment is going to happen, this is pretty hacky journalism. What's your basis for calling the design of the oil cars unsafe? In what way was the way the trains run in Quebec comparable to Seattle? Do they run at the same speed, same grades, and have curves of comparable degrees? What are the actual chances of such an accident occuring in Seattle?
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 18, 2014 at 5:41 PM · Report this
MrBaker 19
Nope, I'm in Seattle and not going to get blown up.
Posted by MrBaker on July 18, 2014 at 5:47 PM · Report this
@18 Matt from Denver: This is Bakka crude shale oil from North Dakota and tar sands from Texas being sent by rail in dangerously vulnerable 111 railcars on a weakened infrastructure that in many areas throughout Washington State, has not been upgraded in long overdue safety standards.
The extremely high volume of additional trains is too much for our region to safely transport by rail, and increased shipping of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels would be equally disastrous in Puget Sound, and would totally wipe out the Salish Sea and San Juan Island Archipelago, officially declared a National Monument by President Barack Obama.
This is why BP cannot be trusted; an oil spill of this capacity would be like the BP Horizon spill of 2010. The Gulf of Mexico is now a desolate wasteland void of all marine life.
47 people in Quebec lost their lives to an oil train derailment explosion that sent toxic smoke into the air, and destroyed the community. Damages are estimated in the billions.
@19: If you live in Seattle, you will in one way or another be impacted negatively. Think of traffic tie ups--even if you're not near the BNSF tracks. What about emergency response times? Effected water quality? Loss of utilities? Downed power lines?
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 18, 2014 at 6:09 PM · Report this
Isn't the train under ground for most of downtown? Different scenario (and kill zone) than in Quebec...
Posted by dhammy on July 18, 2014 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Fistique 22
Map should be animated, showing death/mayhem zones by movement of the train, coupled with hours of operation.
Posted by Fistique on July 18, 2014 at 7:01 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 23
Dhammy dear, the tracks enter the century-old Great Northern Tunnel just north of the two stadiums, and emerge just north of Pike Place market. What could possibly go wrong?…
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on July 18, 2014 at 7:13 PM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 24
@21, yes, underground, and at one point the transit tunnel and rail tunnel intersect, but are kept apart by six inches of fill concrete and fiberglass. What do you expect that six inches to do if a train full of oil explodes?
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on July 18, 2014 at 8:59 PM · Report this
GlibReaper 25
Perhaps Washington State Department of Transportation could create some simulations and animations like they did for the viaduct collapse showing the effects of a train derailment at various points. The Bakken cocktail is worrisome but I'm curious what would happen if a coal train caught fire and then derailed going into the downtown tunnel.
Posted by GlibReaper on July 19, 2014 at 7:56 AM · Report this
Like it or not we live in a port town. In fact the view from the west Seattle bridge reveals that Seattle is more of an industrial port with a city than it is a city with a port. I am not arguing against better safety standards or in favor exporting dirty carbon fuels to accelerate global warming just making a point about where we live and what we should expect...
Posted by Upchuck on July 19, 2014 at 8:11 AM · Report this
wilbur@work 27
A: No. See ya, suckers!
Posted by wilbur@work on July 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM · Report this
Ernie1 28
One key fact regarding the Quebec disaster is that it was caused when a parked, unmanned train began slowly moving and ran away down a 3% grade, ultimately reaching speeds over 80 mph before derailing on a 10 mph curve.

This was an extreme situation very unlikely to happen under normal operations. It's important to discuss the risks in an honest and realistic way.
Posted by Ernie1 on July 19, 2014 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 29
Ok, then how about this one?…

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on July 19, 2014 at 2:17 PM · Report this

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