Home > Harbor News > Crude by Rail debate continues across the State

Crude by Rail debate continues across the State

October 29, 2013

Hundreds of trains carrying crude oil could soon be coming through the Northwest, bringing potential jobs and revenues but raising concerns about oil spills, increased train and vessel traffic and other issues.

With five refineries, Washington has long received crude oil from Alaska and elsewhere by ship, barges or pipelines. But ports and refiners are increasingly turning to trains to take advantage of a boom in oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Three terminals — in Anacortes, Tacoma and Clatskanie, Ore. — are already receiving crude oil by trains. Other facilities are proposed here at the Port of Grays Harbor, in Vancouver, and at refineries.

Together, the 10 projects would be capable of moving nearly 800,000 barrels per day, said Eric de Place, policy director at Sightline Institute. “It’s a lot of oil that we’re talking about moving by train in Washington. It raises new questions about how the state can handle a spill.”

The Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is reviewing a proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. for a terminal at the Port of Vancouver to handle up to 380,000 barrels a day of crude oil. The council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say. Construction could begin by late 2014.

Critics say shipping oil by train is risky and could cause environmental harm from leaking oil tanker cars or derailments.

“It’s very dangerous to move this stuff by rail,” said Sierra Club spokesman Eddie Scher, pointing to the fiery train disaster in Quebec. In July, 47 people were killed when an unattended train rolled away and derailed in Canada and several of its oil cars exploded.

The Association of American Railroads says 99.9977 percent of all shipments of hazardous materials, including crude oil, get to their destination without a leak caused by accidents.

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Roxanne Butler said they currently handle 600,000 barrels of crude oil a day across its entire network. Most of that oil heads to other parts of the country; in the Pacific Northwest, “we average over one train per day to this area,” she said in an email.

Local groups have challenged oil shipping terminals proposed at the Port of Grays Harbor by Westway Terminal Co. and Imperium Terminal Services. They say the projects will bring tens of millions gallons of crude oil through the area each year, increasing train and barge traffic and the risk of oil spills.

The groups won a victory this month when a state hearings board said it would reverse permits issued by Hoquiam and the state to Westway and Imperium. The groups had argued that the agencies failed to do a more complete environmental review.

Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups, said the board identified serious flaws in the permitting and environmental review.

Svend Brandt-Erichsen, an attorney with Marten Law representing Westway, said the decision would create delays but that it wouldn’t be hard to get the information needed.

“There’s not a whole lot of new substantial requirements that will come out of this,” he said.

Local projects are currently in the permitting stage and are expected to be completed in 2016.

Port of GH 2013

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