Custer Crude Oil Derailment 2020

(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)

At approximately 11:40am on December 22, 2020 a BNSF train derailed at mile post 111.7 near Custer, WA. Ten rail cars derailed with several overturning, spilling Bakken crude oil. Three of those cars leaked oil and caught fire.

Summary information

Date of incident: December 26, 2020
Location:

Custer, Washington

(map)
Type of incident: Bakken Crude
Cause of incident:
Responsible party: BNSF Railway
Firefighters standing in front of a derailed train

First reponders stand in front of a drailed oil train in Custer, Washington Dec. 22.

Status updates

Tuesday Jan. 12, 2021

Crews have completed work on the incident scene and demobilized from the area.

An estimated 28,962 gallons of oil were lost in the incident. Much of that amount burned up, evaporated or was recovered afterward, leaving 5,400 to 8,000 gallons unrecovered. While excavating the site, a bioventing system was installed that will increase oxygen in the ground and will consume leftover hydrocarbons. This long-term approach will address the remaining contamination.

Groundwater testing in nearby wells has shown no detection of hydrocarbons, but monitoring wells are being installed on site to ensure there is no off-site oil migration and address any potential future impacts.

Friday Jan. 8, 2021

Excavation of crude oil contaminated soil and backfill was completed Wednesday afternoon. Crews are now demobilizing equipment. 

Recovery wells are in place for any contaminants that remain, and groundwater monitoring wells will be installed on site to ensure there is no off-site oil migration and address any potential future impacts.. 

Community air monitoring has been demobilized.  From the initial response through now, no community air monitoring results showed any level for concern. 

Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021

Men digging in a hole
A backhoe backfilling an area.
A backhoe digging up soil.

 

 

 

 

Crews are nearly finished excavating contaminated soil from the scene and backfilling the affected area. Any remaining contamination will be addressed in a longer-term action by Ecology's Toxic Cleanup Program.

Safety measures for responder and community safety remain in place as work is completed. This includes on-scene fire protection, community air monitoring, and worker safety air monitoring.  All community air monitoring results remain well below action levels.

Saturday Jan. 2, 2021 -- 11:30 a.m.

On site activities continue in Custer. The excavation of crude oil impacted soil is nearly complete and extends to an area approximately 1,000’ x 75’ x 3.5’ deep on the west side of the rail line. 

As the excavation proceeded, infrastructure for potential longer-term remediation was installed. The excavation site has been backfilled as the excavation progressed.

All rail cars at the incident scene have been transported off site and work continues disassembling and decontaminating them for recycling. 

Safety measures for responder and the community safety remain in place.  This includes on-scene fire protection, community air monitoring, and worker safety air monitoring.  All community air monitoring results remain well below action levels.

Ecology Spill Responders will continue to monitor the cleanup through completion and transition to longer-term remediation.  

Wednesday Dec. 30 -- 1:00 p.m.

Wrecked train cars are removed by crane and semi truck Dec. 29, 2020.

Crews have completed removal of all the tank cars from the scene. Response operations will now shift to removal of contaminated soil. 

Saturday Dec. 26 -- 1:00 p.m.

Responders standing next to a derailed tank car.
Crews continue to remove crude oil from the remaining tank cars on scene, which will continue through Sunday, in preparation for their eventual removal from the site. Community and worker safety air monitoring is continuing and there have been no exceedances of safety standards. The cause of the derailment is still under investigation.

Unified command would like to remind the public that the area is not safe to access and no one should approach the scene. No one should ever approach an active railway under any circumstances anyway, besides being private property. Tracks are only safe to cross at established grade crossings, such as roads.

Wednesday Dec. 23 -- 6:18 p.m.

Ecology, EPA, BNSF Railway and other local, state, Tribal and federal partners continue their coordinated response to remove oil from the remaining tank cars, and to clear and clean up the area. BNSF is currently rebuilding, inspecting and testing its mainline track with plans to safely reopen the track around 4 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24. Regular service will resume with trains initially operating at reduced speeds as cleanup efforts continue.

Wednesday, Dec. 23 -- 4:00 p.m.

 

 

 

The spill remains contained within the immediate response area. Work continues to pump the remaining oil out of the derailed tank cars. Federal investigators were able to complete their on-scene analysis today. After the product has been removed from all the rail cars, they will be removed, spill cleanup work will continue.

There continues to be no indication of oil migrating outside of the response area and no known surface or ground water impacts from the spilled oil. There are no public drinking water wells in the area, but sampling teams are being deployed to a small number of private domestic wells to verify there are no ground water impacts.

Preventative measures have been taken to stop oil and firefighting water and foam runoff from spreading outside of the containment area.

Readings from the roving and stationary air monitoring units continue to register below action levels. 

Wednesday, Dec. 23 -- 8:00 a.m.

A claim process has been established, those affected by the spill can call (866) 243-4784 to file a claim with the responsible party.

Tuesday, Dec. 22 -- 10:14 p.m.

 

 

 

A derailed train in the snow.

A derailed train in the snow.

A derailed train in the snow.

A derailed train.

The initial half-mile evacuation order has been lifted but local residences are being asked to shelter in place. A safety perimeter around the response area has been established.

At this time, the spill is contained to the immediate area and the fire is extinguished. Unified Command is now staging equipment to pump out the remaining oil from the rail cars. This process is expected to take place this evening. At this time, there are no observed water-impacts and no oiled wildlife. Responders are taking preventative measures to stop the oil from spreading. Washington Department of Ecology is leading community air monitoring efforts around the response area. Air monitoring equipment is currently being calibrated. Monitoring operations are expected to begin tonight.

Unified Command includes: 

  • Federal On-Scene Coordinator: Environmental Protection Agency
  • State On-Scene Coordinator: Washington Department of Ecology
  • Local On-Scene Coordinator: Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office
  • Responsible Party: BNSF Railway
  • Tribal On-Scene Coordinator: Lummi Nation

Unified Command's top priorities are: 

  • Health and safety of the public and responders
  • Control the source of the spill and surface runoff
  • Containment and recovery of spilled material
  • Keeping the public informed
  • Minimizing economic impacts

Tuesday, Dec. 22

Firefighters in front of a derailed train

First responders at the scene of the train derailment in Custer, Washington Dec. 22, 2020.

Firefighters in front of a derailed train

Firefighters discuss the response in front of a detrailed train in Custer, Washington Dec. 22, 2020.

At approximately 11:40am on December 22, 2020 a BNSF train derailed at mile post 111.7 near Custer, WA. Seven rail cars were overturned, three of those leaked Bakken crude oil and caught fire.

Responding agencies included Whatcom County, local fire departments, Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, Washington State Patrol, local police Washington Dept. of Ecology, and BNSF Railway.  

Firefighters in front of a derailed train on fire at night

Firefighters wait for a fire to burn down before extinguishing it Dec. 22, 2020.

Firefighters standing in front of a derailed train

Firefighters respond to a train derailment in Custer, Washington Dec. 22

News releases

Media contact

Ty Keltner, Communications, ty.keltner@ecy.wa.gov, 360-515-6868, @EcologyWA