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Sept. 25, 2021

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Oil train traffic rising in county

Union Pacific notifies state, as required, of plans to transport Bakken crude

By , Columbian Business Reporter

With or without an oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver, oil train traffic is increasing in Clark County.

Union Pacific announced last week it is sending up to one train with 35 or more cars of Bakken oil per week through the county’s north-south corridor.

As of Nov. 10, the rail company said, it expects to transport enough Bakken crude through Washington to trigger a U.S. Department of Transportation requirement to notify the state about those trains.

“(A) railroad is prohibited from operating any train transporting 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil in that state until such notification is provided,” reads a 2014 emergency DOT order.

Oil will enter the state in Spokane County and head south through the Tri-Cities.

A notification sent to Oregon showed Bakken oil will travel on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge before re-entering Washington in Clark County.

The North Dakota-sourced crude will reach its destination in Pierce County, according to the notification.

It is not clear exactly where the oil will be unloaded, as the railroad cites a national security interest in keeping that information confidential.

BNSF currently transports crude oil through Clark County, including on tracks on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Between 10 and 18 BNSF oil trains travel through the county every week, according to state data.

The federal Department of Transportation issued its emergency order following a number of accidents in the past several years.

“(A) pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken and being transported by rail constitute an imminent hazard,” according to the order.

At the same time, low oil prices have led to a stall in production in the Bakken field. According to North Dakota state figures, monthly production has hovered around 34 million barrels through October this year. That’s down from an all-time high of 36 million barrels in December last year and sustained growth before that.

The proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver would see an average of four unit trains with 120 cars each day, according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project. The majority of the oil would likely come from the Bakken formation.

The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will discuss the terminal project at its 1:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

A hearing will be held Jan. 5 at the Clark County Event Center from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Comments on the Vancouver Energy project, a joint venture of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., will be accepted through Jan. 22.

Columbian Business Reporter