• NTSB
  • PUNCTURED This is what happens to DOT-111 tanker cars in oil train derailments, the National Transportation Safety Board has been warning for decades.

Last week, I told you about a map showing the "impact" areas of an oil train explosion in Seattle, in the event of a derailment. Some commenters protested: But there are a zillion unlikely worst-case catastrophes that could befall the city! You're just fearmongering!

Really? You've got a 20 million-to-one chance of being killed by a terrorist, for comparison. We're expected to have more than a dozen oil trains carrying a highly flammable crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, in what regulators have long warned are unsafe DOT-111 tanker cars, passing directly through downtown every week.

Because they'd rather not risk the incineration of huge swaths of Seattle, all nine members of the Seattle City Council signed and sent a letter this week to the federal Department of Transportation in support of a joint Sierra Club and ForestEthics legal complaint. The complaint asks the feds to implement an immediate emergency order banning the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 cars.

Our council members are the first in the country come out in support of the complaint, according to council spokesperson Dana Robinson Slote. Here's what the letter says:

More oil has spilled from rail accidents in 2013 than the last 38 previous years combined. Just in the last year, there have been a number of high profile derailments of DOT-111s carrying Bakken crude that have led to massive oil spills, catastrophic explosions, evacuations, and deaths. The volume of petroleum-by-rail moving through Seattle is expected to triple to over one million barrels per week over the next five years, primarily from the Bakken formation...

We therefore seek to protect the public from oil spills and explosions now, rather than wait for the rulemaking process to put new tank car standards in place. Banning the shipment of highly flammable crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank cars is necessary to abate the unsafe conditions posing an imminent hazard to human life, communities, and the environment.

We urge the Secretary to issue an emergency order imposing such a ban immediately.

Read the rest here (PDF). The council letter comes on the heels of a resolution, passed earlier this month, by the Washington State Council of Firefighters asking Governor Jay Inslee to "do all in his power to halt the movement" of oil trains through Washington—at least until state officials issue a study of increased oil-by-rail traffic next March.