ENVIRONMENT

Oil Train Derails, Spilling Crude In Columbia River Gorge

Black smoke billowed over the scene.
Smoke from burning oil marks the site of a train derailment in Oregon.
Smoke from burning oil marks the site of a train derailment in Oregon.

A train carrying crude oil derailed Friday at the scenic Columbia River Gorge, spilling oil on the Oregon side of the river, which separates that state from Washington. At least one of the tanker cars burst into flames.

Officials said on Saturday that 16 cars of a 96-car train had derailed and four caught fire. 

The derailment occurred near Mosier, a small town east of Portland, around noon local time. About 100 residents of Mosier remained under an evacuation order Saturday.

It is not yet clear how much crude was released.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said about 4 p.m. that there were no reports of oil entering the Columbia River. Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, also said there were no signs of oil in the river.

But black smoke could be seen billowing into the sky from the nearby town of Mosier, Oregon. The scene was also captured by several nearby webcams.

There were no initial reports of injuries, although students were evacuated from an area school as a precaution. The derailment also forced the closure of Interstate 84, causing backups.

The cars derailed about 20 feet from the Mosier's sewage plant, Mayor Arlene Burns told The Oregonian

"We've been saying for a long time that it's not fair for trains with toxic loads to come into our towns near our Gorge," Burns said. "We don't have the capacity to fight these fires."

The cause of the derailment was unclear, as was how fast the train was traveling.

The train was traveling from Eastport, Idaho, to Tacoma, Washington, carrying Bakken crude, Hunt said.

Emergency crews from multiple agencies were responding. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said she was aware of the situation and was ready to make every state resource available.

The fire was out by Saturday, but an oil sheen has been discovered on the Columbia River, according to Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology.

There have been at least 26 major oil-train derailments or fires across the U.S. and Canada in the past decade, according to an Associated Press analysis. Transporting oil is an especially hot topic in the Northwest. 

“Today’s derailment of a train carrying Bakken crude oil in the Columbia River Gorge is yet another reminder of the risks and concerns of crude-by-rail transport in our region," Gov. Inslee said Friday.

Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, took a critical tone as well.

“History has repeatedly shown just how deadly and dangerous oil train crashes can be," Moffitt said in a statement. "Simply put, transporting oil by rail -- or by any method -- is a disaster waiting to happen. The safety and wellbeing of our communities must be put ahead of profits for Big Oil.”

In May, hundreds of activists protested at oil refineries and blocked railroad lines in Washington state. An icebreaker on an oil-drilling expedition was met by protesters dangling from Portland's bridges and paddling kayaks in the Willamette River when it passed through on its way to the ocean.

This article has been updated with details of the fire and the oil spill.

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