Oil Train from Idaho Derails in Oregon, Triggers Fire, Spill, Evacuations 

click to enlarge Union Pacific oil trains roll through the Northwest every day. - RAYMOND SHOBE / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
  • Raymond Shobe / Creative Commons 2.0
  • Union Pacific oil trains roll through the Northwest every day.

A 96-car train traveling from Idaho's panhandle to an oil refinery yard in Tacoma, Wash., wreaked havoc on the Columbia River Gorge when 16 of its cars carrying crude oil derailed on Friday, spilling oil and igniting a fire which caused plumes of smoke that were visible for miles. Because of the oil spill, officials in the community of Mosier, Ore. (pop.433), shut down the town's wastewater treatment plant and sewer system.

The Oregonian reports "Mosier really dodged a bullet" by keeping the derailed tank cars from spilling into a lake in a National Scenic Arena lake, adding, "a half-mile east, and the inferno would've burned a few feet beneath a block of modular homes. Another mile-and-a-half, and leaking tank cars would've landed on the bank of the Columbia River during peak spring chinook salmon migration."

On Sunday morning, nearly 100 Mosier residents were still under evacuation orders and crews reported they had contained a "light oil sheen" in the Columbia River. Residents were warned not to shower and to boil water.

In 2008, around 9,500 carloads of oil rode the rails through the region but by 2013, the industry estimates 400,000 carloads of oil were shipped by rail as a direct result of the North Dakota oil boom. Currently, authorities in Washington are considering proposals that could increase oil train shipments through the Gorge. Columbiariverkeeper.org reports "the largest oil-by-rail project in the Northwest is proposed at the Port of Vancouver. In 2013, the Port approved a lease agreement with Tesoro Savage to ship up to a staggering 360,000 barrels of crude oil each day along the Columbia River. The proposed oil terminal would require at least four mile-and-a-half long unit trains per day."

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