Pushed by environmentalists and faith-based groups, city lawmakers have proposed banning transfers of large amounts of crude oil within Baltimore’s borders.
Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger introduced a bill last night that seeks to prohibit zoning for crude oil terminals – defined as a “facility that receives, stores, transfers, ships, or processes crude oil.” The bill would add the terminals to a list of already-banned facilities, such as nuclear power plants, incinerators and solid waste sanitary landfills.
Environmental and faith-based groups have been petitioning for such a ban, citing “oil bomb train” disasters that have happened elsewhere when crude oil cars exploded in population-dense areas. The worst example is from July 2013 in Quebec, where 47 people were killed in an explosion and resulting fires took days to extenguish.
Environmentalists argue the route for crude oil trains weaves straight through the city to the harbor via the Howard Street Tunnel, putting entire neighborhoods at risk in certain cases. Advocates say 165,000 people live in the “oil blast zone,” putting them in danger if something goes awry and ignites the transported crude.
“Most of my district is within one mile of the tracks that crude oil has been transported on. I don’t want any more crude oil tank cars putting the neighborhoods in my district at risk,” Reisinger said in a statement yesterday.
Baltimore actually already has two terminals equipped to ship crude oil, one at Fairfield Terminal in Curtis Bay and another in Canton. Neither have handled dedicated oil trains in recent years, The Sun reports, though rail companies have shipped crude cars through the city mixed in with other types of cargo. Both terminals already have zoning approval to operate, but would be barred from expanding if the proposal takes effect.
With oils prices low and no boom happening at the moment, few predict companies would try to transport large amounts of crude through Baltimore anytime in the near future. But Clarke said their measure could help prepare the city by limiting capacity if demand jumps, as it did between 2013 and 2015 when tens of millions of gallons of crude traveled through Baltimore.
“This limited capacity will help to protect Baltimore from crude oil train hazards,” she said in a statement.
The bill has now been passed on to the city solicitor’s office, the Department of Transportation, the planning commission and the zoning board for further review.