BNSF Railway Black Tank Property

Facility Site ID: 98615712 Cleanup Site ID: 3243

Site Background

BNSF Railway Yard in March 1931. (Washington Air National Guard photo, Ted Holloway collection)
BNSF Railway Yard in March 1931. (Washington Air National Guard photo, Ted Holloway collection)
The BNSF Railway Black Tank Property is in the Hillyard neighborhood. The site is directly over the Hillyard Trough portion of the Spokane-Valley Rathdrum-Prairie Aquifer. The aquifer provides drinking water to nearly 600,000 residents in the Spokane area.

The site housed a 50-foot-diameter, above-ground, black tank that stored petroleum products. The tank was built as early as 1910 and was actively used until 1988. The tank was connected to piping and other infrastructure facilities. The petroleum products were used in various industrial operations. Residual petroleum products were stored until 2006 when BNSF removed the tank. The site also had an above-ground red tank that was used to store and transfer diesel. The diesel was used to thin bunker C, so it could be pumped into trains.

North Spokane Corridor construction in Hillyard is on schedule
The site is in the path of the North Spokane Corridor. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is building the freeway to connect US Highway 395 to Interstate 90. 
WSDOT considered other alignment options due to uncertainty about how cleanup could impact the freeway design and construction schedule. The nearby community preferred the original alignment over going around the site to the west because it would require high bridge clearances over BNSF's rail lines and bring the freeway closer to the downtown Hillyard business district.

To keep the freeway on its original, community-preferred alignment, Ecology and WSDOT entered into a framework agreement with BNSF. The framework sets the basis for WSDOT to continue design and construction of the freeway, provides WSDOT right-of-way access to BNSF’s property, and ensures that cleanup infrastructure can co-exist with the freeway.


A petroleum-contaminated soil sample taken from the BNSF Black Tank Property
A petroleum-contaminated soil sample taken from the BNSF Black Tank Property

Petroleum products were spilled or leaked to soil and groundwater during historic site activities.

The primary petroleum products that spilled or leaked were diesel and a heavy oil known as bunker C. An approximately 7-acre plume is on groundwater 170 feet below the ground surface. These petroleum products are very thick, difficult to pump, and challenging to clean up because of the depth and type of contamination.

Because the petroleum products are thick, the contamination is staying on top of the groundwater with very little mixing occurring. Many groundwater monitoring wells are at the site, and drinking water is not affected by the contamination at this time. Monitoring will continue until the cleanup process is complete.

However, it’s important to understand and clean up the contamination while it still remains reasonably isolated, and Ecology will oversee the cleanup process until the site is protective of human health and the environment.

Cleanup Underway

BNSF removing the black tank in 2006.
BNSF removing the black tank in 2006.
BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil are responsible for the cleanup. BNSF removed the black tank in 2006, along with contaminated soil under and around the tank. BNSF then discovered petroleum products in a monitoring well in 2008.

Ecology entered into an Agreed Order with BNSF and Marathon in 2012, requiring them to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS). The RI gathered information about the extent and locations of petroleum contamination in soil and groundwater at the site. The FS evaluates cleanup options.

The draft RI/FS was available for public review and comment May 22 through June 22, 2017. We received comments from 21 people and published our responses. We also sent them to everyone who commented and appreciate their interest and input.

Ecology received four requests for a public meeting during the draft RI/FS comment period, which did not meet the 10 requests we require to justify the costs of holding one. However, when requestors provided contact information, we offered to meet with them individually to answer questions and listen to concerns. No one accepted these offers.

We held a comment period June 4 - July 3, 2018, for an amendment to the legal agreement with BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil. The amendment required the responsible parties to excavate and dispose up to 15 feet of contaminated soil at each of the five surface soil contamination areas in 2018 before the cleanup action plan is final. This interim cleanup action was necessary to keep the North Spokane Corridor freeway construction on schedule. Ecology responded to comments from eight people.

We held a comment period May 13 - June 11, 2019, for the following documents:
We selected excavation for the contaminated surface soil, and a combination of bioventing and biosparging to address deep soil and groundwater contamination, with the possibility of adding steam-enhanced extraction for the deep contamination if groundwater remediation does not meet the cleanup schedule.

Ecology received comments from seven people. We appreciate the input we received. You may read the comments and our responses, and we have sent them to those who commented. We have finalized the draft documents without making further changes based on public comments.

Final cleanup is underway, following the plans laid out in the Cleanup Action Plan and Scope of Work and Schedule.
Legal 3
Document Title Document Date Document Type
Consent Decree for CAP: Black Tank 7/25/2019 Consent Decree
Amendment No. 1: Agreed Order for BNSF Black Tank site 7/12/2018 Agreed Order Amendment
Agreed Order for RI/FS: Black Tank 7/11/2012 Agreed Order
Public Information 10
State Environmental Policy Act 4
Technical Reports 5
Document Title Document Date Document Type
Cleanup Action Plan: Black Tank 6/19/2019 Cleanup Action Plan
CAP Scope of Work & Schedule: Black Tank 4/1/2019 Scope Of Work
Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study Report: BNSF Black Tank Property 3/6/2017 Remedial Investigation / Feasibility Study
Black Tank Remedy Framework Agreement 3/1/2017 Site Specific Technical Document - other
BNSF Black Tank Property - Letters re: North Spokane Corridor and Black Tank Site 10/26/2016 Site Specific Administrative Document - other (Administrative correspondence)
There may be more documents related to this site. To obtain documents not available electronically, you will need to make a public records request.

Places to see print documents

  • Eastern Regional Office
    N 4601 Monroe St
    Spokane, 99205-1265
    Please schedule an appointment to view print documents at this location.
  • Spokane Public Library Hillyard Branch
    4005 N. Cook St.
    Spokane, 99207
    This location may only have print documents available during open comment periods.

Contaminants 2

Contaminant Type
Surface Water
Non-Halogenated Organics - Petroleum Products-Unspecified C C
Non-Halogenated Organics - Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons C S
Confirmed Above Cleanup Levels
Below Cleanup Levels
This contaminant list was based on our best information at the time it was entered. It may not reflect current conditions at the site.