BNSF strikes deal to reduce fines on leaky oil tankers

By Steve Guntli

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad has negotiated a settlement with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to reduce fines on unreported hazardous material spills, including one at Cherry Point.

According to the WUTC, BNSF will pay $71,000 for failing to report crude oil leaks in a timely fashion. That amount is roughly one-tenth of the original $700,000 WUTC had recommended back in March. Under the proposed deal, $40,000 of the reduced penalty may be suspended if the company commits no new violations of the accident reporting rules within the next year.

The WUTC imposed the fines following an investigation spanning from November 1, 2014 to February 24, 2015. State safety regulations require companies to report hazardous material leaks to the state’s emergency operations center within 30 minutes of discovering the leak. On March 19, the commission filed a complaint against BNSF, alleging the company committed 700 violations of this requirement across 14 locations, including a leaky oil tanker at BP Cherry Point. Under UTC regulations, each day a leak goes unreported counts as a separate violation, and each violation carries a $1,000 penalty. BNSF responded to the UTC’s original report with information that reduced the number of violations to 239.

The new deal was put in place to avoid lengthy legal proceedings and encourage future compliance from BNSF, according to the WUTC’s website.

In addition to the leak at Cherry Point, WUTC identified spills in Seattle, Auburn and Vancouver, Washington, as well as a leak of hazardous solid waster in Everett.

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