Analyst: Look at oil-by-rail big picture

At WSUV lecture he says projects must be viewed cumulatively

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As big as the oil terminal proposed for Vancouver would be, it should not be weighed in isolation, an environmental policy analyst told a gathering Thursday at WSU Vancouver.

The $110 million project by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. at the Port of Vancouver to handle as much as 380,000 barrels of crude oil a day is just one of 10 crude-by-rail projects either planned or underway in Washington and Oregon.

“What we’re looking at in terms of oil-by-train is off the charts,” said Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute in Seattle.

If all the projects were built and operated at full capacity, they would put an estimated 11 loaded mile-long trains per day on the Northwest’s railway system, according to de Place’s research.

And that doesn’t even count the coal trains that would be added by terminals proposed for Longview, Bellingham and Boardman, Ore., nor does it include proposals to convert existing facilities to crude oil, as NuStar Energy is seeking to do with two of its tanks in Vancouver to handle as many as 50,000 barrels of crude a day.

The region must consider these coal and oil proposals cumulatively, instead of project by project, de Place argued. About 55 people attended his lecture, presented by the university’s Center for Social and Environmental Justice.

“This is the region that has given birth to the modern environmental movement,” de Place said. “It’s the most curious turn of history that this region … now has to give a permission slip to fossil fuel producers.”

The carbon emissions from the oil and coal proposals planned for the Northwest would far exceed that of the hotly debated Keystone XL pipeline proposal before President Obama.

Climate change is already affecting every continent and ocean and threatens to worsen, according to the recently released report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Even if you don’t believe human use of fossil fuels is changing the climate, there’s plenty of other reasons to worry about the coal and oil proposals, de Place said. He estimates the added train traffic will close local streets at rail crossings for two to four hours a day.

“That has serious economic impacts,” de Place said. “We don’t get anything, except maybe a few jobs at the terminals.”

Four explosive oil train accidents in Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota and Oklahoma since the Bakken oil boom offer proof of the safety hazards, he said.

“This is a very real issue,” de Place said. “You don’t have to care about climate change to not want to be incinerated.”