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Tesoro To Upgrade To Safer Oil Tankers

A company that's shipping crude oil through the Pacific Northwest has announced it's upgrading its fleet to safer tanker train cars. The announcement comes after several derailments, fires, and explosions prompted safety concerns, including an explosion in Quebec last summer that killed 47 people.

Right now, Tesoro Corp. ships crude oil by rail through the Pacific Northwest to a refinery in Anacortes, Wash. The company plans to expand its oil shipments with a proposed terminal in Vancouver, Wash.

Keith Casey, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Tesoro, said the new post-October 2011 models will lower the risk of explosions.

"These cars are of a higher safety factor in preparation if there was a derailment or another type of issue," Casey said.

Casey said the newer models will replace about 10 percent of Tesoro's fleet. The company in 2012 upgraded rail tankers when it expanded an unloading facility in Anacortes, he said.

The legacy DOT-111 railcars has been known since a 1991 National Transportation Safety Board report to be easily punctured.

Environmental groups worry Tesoro's upgrades aren't doing enough.

"There are a lot of concerns about crude oil explosions, and of course they should use modern cars, but it doesn't alleviate the problem of explosions along the tracks and in populated areas," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "Only an oil company would send out a press release about using modern safety equipment versus dangerous oil cars that are 30 years old."

Tesoro plans to have the newer models in place by the middle of this year, before the Vancouver terminal is built.

At the same time, The Greenbrier Companies, a rail car manufacturer based in Lake Oswego, Ore., told The Wall Street Journal a safer tanker design and newer retrofits could be implemented faster than the 10 years the industry is proposing.

"This allows the industry to take immediate steps to improve public safety. It also preserves the massive investment in tank cars now in service, by extending the time these cars could be used in hazardous material transportation as they ultimately transition over time to less hazardous service," said William Furman, Greenbrier CEO, in a statement.