Oil sheen detected in Columbia River after Oregon train derailment

Marilyn Malara
A 95-car Union Pacific train carrying crude oil to Tacoma, Wash. has derailed, prompting a blazing fire in two cars and a nearby evacuation. Photo by WA Department of Ecology/Twitter
A 95-car Union Pacific train carrying crude oil to Tacoma, Wash. has derailed, prompting a blazing fire in two cars and a nearby evacuation. Photo by WA Department of Ecology/Twitter

MOSIER, Ore., June 4 (UPI) -- Oil was detected in the Columbia River near the site of an Union Pacific oil train derailment that sparked a a blazing fire in Oregon.

The derailment took place Friday in Columbia River Gorge, near the small town of Mosier -- about 70 miles east of Portland -- where all of its 440 residents were told to evacuate, The Los Angeles Times said.


The incident occurred near the Columbia River, where there is now a light sheen of oil, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. The agency placed oil containment booms into the river as a precautionary measure soon after the incident, it announced.

"The sheen is contained, but we want to know where it's coming from," said Judy Smith, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, according to The Oregonian. "It didn't come from Rock Creek. We're going to look for the source."


Smith said the oil may have come from a nearby sewer drain, because the derailment occurred nearby Mosier's sewage treatment plant. More containment booms have been added to the river.

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The 95-car train was carrying Bakken crude oil to Tacoma, Wash., from Eastport, Idaho, a spokesman from transport company Union Pacific, Jeff Jacobs, told CNN. Eleven of the cars were the ones that derailed.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said no houses or other structures were directly damaged by the derailment, although it did occur close to a motor home community.

"I'm extremely grateful to the myriad of public and private individuals and organizations across two states who have responded to this situation very swiftly and very effectively," she said.

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A cooling operation reportedly began Friday afternoon and was expected to continue through the night, Brown added.

The process consists of cooling the ignited tank cars with constant streams of water before applying fire-stopping foam to the blazes. On Saturday, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said crews spent eight to 10 hours pouring 1,500 gallons of water on the tanks, The Oregonian reported.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Dspinoza said inspections were frequently completed on the rail where the derailment occurred, with the most recent one happening on May 31.

"With all these inspections there was nothing out of the ordinary," she stated, adding that the aftermath of the wreck will include 16 train cars being removed by flatbed trucks. The unaffected oil from the train will reportedly be transferred to storage tanks.

About 90 percent of communities near the railroad along the Columbia River Gorge are unprepared to fight such oil fires, according to a survey reported by the L.A. Times.

"A majority of fire agencies with crude oil trains traveling through their jurisdictions ... do not have enough equipment to respond to a crude oil incident," the survey reportedly said.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer said in a statement following the incident it is "a dangerous and tragic event."

"Seeing our beautiful Columbia River Gorge on fire today should be a wake-up call for federal and state agencies -- underscoring the need to complete comprehensive environmental reviews of oil-by-rail in the Pacific Northwest," he said.


The site of the derailment is also near a fishing community owned by the Yakama Nation tribe. The tribe's chairman, JoDe Goudy, released a statement saying his community has "repeatedly warned of train derailments, corresponding oil spills, and the contamination that could result when these trains are carrying crude oil."

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