CUSTER, Whatcom County — Officials with the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) planned to begin removing the train cars that derailed last week in Whatcom County starting Tuesday. The cause of the derailment is still unknown.

The tanker train hauling crude oil derailed near the town of Custer on Dec. 22. An estimated seven train cars derailed, and a spokesperson for BNSF Railways said three cars ruptured, spilling an unknown amount of crude oil onto the ground.

Crews worked through the weekend to remove the remaining oil from the train cars and will transport it to a refinery in Ferndale. Once that’s finished, the train cars can start to be removed, officials said.

Despite the oil spill, DOE’s spill response supervisor David Byers said the environmental impacts from the spill appear to be minimal.

He said there were no known impacts to wildlife and the department doesn’t believe oil flowed into any waterways or bodies of water. But the department is continuing to investigate and monitor for any impacts to wetlands or other areas.

On Monday, crews finished removing oil from the derailed cars, said DOE spokesperson Ty Keltner. They’ll be taken to a site to be cleaned, then recycled, he said.


Meanwhile, several state and federal agencies, including DOE, the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board and the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, have all started their own investigations into the derailment, Keltner said.

The tracks reopened early Christmas Eve after the derailed cars were pushed to the side, according to Keltner.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said Monday. “We’re continuing the clean up work, then we’ll be cleaning up the soil.”

Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.