BNSF Railway faces fines in Washington state over hazardous spills

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 4:30 PM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state regulators have recommended BNSF Railway be fined $700,000 for not properly disclosing that its trains had spilled crude oil and other hazardous materials on 14 occasions over four months, officials said on Friday.

BNSF rail cars leaked hazardous material in 16 separate incidents between November and March but in only two cases were the spills reported to state officials correctly, according to a formal complaint by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

In eight incidents, the leaks were not reported at all, commission spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said.

The list of materials spilled from BNSF trains includes crude oil, lube oil, diesel fuel and hazardous solid waste, according to the complaint.

State safety rules require railroads make a telephone report of the release of a hazardous material within 30 minutes of learning of the incident in order to assess environmental impact and ensure public safety but the railroad did not meet that deadline in several spills, the commission said.

BNSF, the largest railroad company operating in Washington, had been repeatedly reminded of the rules since last fall, Maxwell said. BNSF said it was reviewing the complaint and updating its notification guidelines.

"There is nothing more important to us than safely transporting all of the commodities we carry," spokesman Gus Melonas said in a statement. "We believed we were complying in good faith with the requirements from our agency partners."

The $700,000 fine was the recommendation of the staff of Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and must be approved by the board before it is levied.

The complaint against BNSF comes amid a heightened national focus on rail safety following a series of derailments involving trains hauling crude oil that resulted in explosions and fires.

Washington state has seen a rapid spike in trains hauling oil in the past four years, with as many as 19 unit trains carrying as much as 3 million gallons of Bakken crude now rolling through the state each week.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott)