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Oregon's US Senators Join Call To Reject LNG-By-Rail Rules

<p>Cleanup efforts continued on Monday, June 6, 2016, at the site of an oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon.</p>

Conrad Wilson

Cleanup efforts continued on Monday, June 6, 2016, at the site of an oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon.

Both of Oregon’s U.S. senators expressed concern on Tuesday over the Trump administration’s proposed rule to transport liquefied natural gas by rail lines.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley released a joint statement criticizing the proposal to permit the transport of flammable materials through densely populated areas. The two Democrats said such a change will pose serious threats to public safety to Oregonians and others nationwide.

Wyden and Merkley cited multiple accidents involving trains carrying hazardous materials including a 2016 derailment in Mosier, Oregon, that spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil in the Columbia River Gorge and caught fire.

“Rather than await further proof of safety and reliability through small-scale transportation of LNG by rail, this proposal is opening the floodgates to bulk transportation without sufficient analysis to provide adequate safety guidelines.” Wyden and Merkley said in a statement to news media. “In our home state of Oregon, we have seen the risks firsthand … Many of Oregon’s smaller and more rural areas have limited emergency response resources, let alone capabilities to deal with hazardous materials such as LNG that could devastate their communities.”

In October 2019, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration proposed a rule that would allow liquefied natural gas, like methane, to be transported on trains with up to 100 rail cars through the same rail lines used by high speed passenger trains.

On Monday, 16 state attorneys general, including Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum, submitted comments to the Department of Transportation’s proposal after a nearly three-week extension was added to the proposal’s original Dec. 23 deadline. They called out the agency for not properly analyzing the public safety and environmental impacts of transporting LNG via railcar and urging the administration to withdraw the proposal. 

Although there are no known proposals to transport LNG by train through Oregon, Rosenblum said the proposal to permit such a practice is dangerous and lacks a plan in cause of catastrophic events.

“I am very concerned about the potential impact on Oregonians of carrying such a potent gas by rail. If the Trump administration has their way, they would allow railways around the country to transport liquefied natural gas throughout our current railway system,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “It’s a very scary proposal, and one that needs a lot more thought and more safety precautions. One mistake by a train carrying LNG gas could cause massive explosions and fires. These rail lines are near communities, schools, places of worship and towns throughout our state and country.”

Dan Serres with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper said liquefied natural gas or methane are dense fuels. Once they are no longer being kept cold, they turn into a flammable gas and will burn with any mix of air.

“For us in the Northwest, every main line rail line you can see liquefied natural gas trains rolling through in the same way we see oil trains right now and we know those pose a dramatic risk. LNG would be taking that to a whole other really reckless level by putting very volatile fuel through towns that are not even aware that they would be coming through,” Serres said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said safety is its top priority and that it will evaluate all public comments and concerns raised through the rule-making process.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa is a reporter with OPB’s Science & Environment unit. Before OPB, Monica was an on-call general assignment reporter at KQED in San Francisco. She also helped produce The California Report and KQED Newsroom. Monica holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University.