Protecting Washington’s Communities, Promoting Safe Oil Transport

Washington State is emerging as a national leader in crude oil train safety.(1) In 2015, a bipartisan group of legislators came together to enact the “Oil Transportation Safety Act,” providing greater public transparency regarding shipments of crude oil by rail, and increasing taxes on the petroleum industry to pay for additional emergency response planning, equipment and training for communities along rail lines.

The petroleum industry was an active participant in the legislative deliberations on this landmark legislation. As the new law and new rules go into effect, the industry continues to work with other industry partners as well as federal, state and local officials to ensure that rail continues to be one of the safest ways to move crude oil, ethanol and other petroleum-related projects.

“The petroleum industry was an active participant in the legislative deliberations on this landmark legislation.”

Washington: A Leader in Public Transparency and Emergency Preparation

The Oil Transportation Safety Act was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in May 2015. The new law requires(2):

  • Advance notice of shipments: Facilities receiving oil from railroad cars must provide notice to the Department of Ecology once weekly for the following seven days, including the route, scheduled time, location and volume and origin of crude oil received.
  • Ecology officials may share this information with government emergency response agencies. The department must also release to the public a quarterly report aggregating this information on a statewide basis by route, by week and by type of oil
  • Accountability: Railroads that transport oil must demonstrate to the Utilities and Transportation Commission that they have the ability to pay for a worst-case oil spill.
  • Oil spill response plans: Railroads are added to the list of entities (including terminals and refineries) that must submit their oil spill contingency plans to the state.
  • The Department of Ecology must ensure each geographic region has a response plan.
  • More inspectors, stricter safety standards: The Utilities and Transportation Commission must keep track of safety standards for crossings of any railroad tracks used to transport crude oil. The law also provided funding for the UTC to hire additional railroad inspectors.
  • More money for emergency responders. Allocates $1.9 million in grants for emergency response agencies.(3)
  • Legislative oversight. House Environment Committee and the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee must hold a joint meeting to review spill prevention and response activities. Higher taxes, and fees paid by oil industry dedicated to state, local programs

The petroleum industry is the primary revenue source for the safety improvements. Washington’s Oil Transportation Safety Act increased industry taxes to support emergency responders, making approximately $4.8 million available in 2015-2017.(4)

  • Oil Spill Administration Tax. Applies a 4 cents-per-barrel tax on crude oil transported by rail, as is currently applied to oil received via marine terminal.(5)
  • Oil Spill Response Tax. Applies a 1-cent tax on crude oil transported by rail.(6)
  • Regulatory fees. Increased fees for railroads that haul crude oil to strengthen the Utility and Transportation Commission’s rail safety inspection program.(7)

“…the industry continues to work with…federal, state, and local officials to ensure that rail continues to be one of the safest ways to move crude oil…”

Source: Department of Ecology, State of Washington

Beyond Olympia: Industry partners working to ensure safety throughout Northwest and nationwide

  • Rail remains very safe. Refineries choose to move crude oil by rail because of the outstanding overall safety record. North America’s freight railroads deliver more than 99.9% of all crude oil and other hazardous materials shipments without incident.(8)
  • Substantial investment in new tank cars. The American petroleum industry has invested more than $3 billion since 2011 to purchase new tank cars and to retrofit existing tanks to meet or exceed federal safety standards. Thicker steel, heatshields, and valve protection all reduce the risk of explosion or fire in an incident.
  • Investment in Washington’s rail network. Rail operator BNSF will spend nearly $220 million this year in the state of Washington replacing and upgrading rail, rail ties and ballast.(9)
  • More frequent route inspections than required by law. Most crude oil routes operated by BNSF railroad are visually inspected by track inspectors as often as four times a week, more than twice required by the Federal Railroad Administration. The busiest lines, including the Columbia Gorge route, are often inspected daily.
  • Monitoring for potential problems. BNSF employs rail detectors that use ultra-sonic waves to identify any internal flaws in the rail.
  • Detectors are placed more closely together in the Gorge and other sensitive routes.
  • Training first responders. More than 250 emergency responders from Washington State attended special, industry-sponsored training sessions at the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. and at Texas A&M.
  • Resources and equipment in multiple locations. Rail operators have stationed first responders, fire trailers and spill trailers in key regions.
  • Tougher regulations to stabilize prior to transport. The North Dakota Industrial Commission passed new regulations in late 2014 designed to further stabilize Bakken crude oil before it is loaded onto rail cars.(10)


(1) “Washington state poised to become leader in oil train safety ahead of massive increase in traffic,” Puget Sound Business Journal, Aug. 7, 2015.
(2) Final Bill Report, ESHB 1449.
(3) 2015-2017 Omnibus Operating Budget, Department of Ecology
(4) Ibid |
(5) 2015 Tax Legislation, Washington Department of Revenue
(6) 2015 Tax Legislation, Washington Department of Revenue
(7) “Washington ramping up inspections of railroad tracks, trains,” King5, June 14, 2016.
(8) American Petroleum Institute
(9) “Washington Track Inspections,” BNSF Railway.
(10) North Dakota Industrial Commission, Order #25417, Dec. 9, 2014.

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