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Oil by rail down a bit in state in fourth quarter 2017

Most of it rolled through the Columbia River Gorge, Vancouver

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
An oil train waits to move westbound in Vancouver.
An oil train waits to move westbound in Vancouver. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

On average, more than a million barrels of oil a week was shipped by rail into Washington during the fourth quarter of 2017, a slightly lower volume than the year’s previous three quarters, and the majority of it rolled through the Columbia River Gorge and Vancouver, according to a new report by the state Department of Ecology.

The information was released this month in the latest iteration of “Crude Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline,” a quarterly report released by the Washington Department of Ecology to create greater transparency on oil shipments in and around the state.

The average weekly volume of crude-by-rail shipments was a little more than 1 million barrels of oil, or 42.3 million gallons, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

More than 19,000 rail cars shipped 13.1 million barrels, or more than 550 million gallons, over the quarter.

A little less than 86 percent of the crude shipped by train was sourced from North Dakota, while the other 15 percent came from the Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Most of the shipments entered the state at Spokane, traveled through the Columbia River Gorge, then moved up along the Interstate 5 corridor along Puget Sound, then up to the northwest corner of the state and out to British Columbia. Other shipments entered the state through Whatcom County.

Oil moved into Washington by rail 25 percent of the time, through pipelines 28 percent of the time and on marine vessels 46 percent of the time last quarter.

The latest document was released one year after Ecology put forth the first “Crude Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline” report.

Last year, the second quarter of the year — April 1 through June 30 — saw the highest volumes of oil move through the state. In total,14.4 million barrels of oil were shipped through Washington, with a weekly average of 1.1 million barrels.

“The volume and percent transported by each mode has stayed relatively consistent in the last year,” said Ecology spokeswoman Sandy Howard. “We can’t speculate on what may change in the future based on this data. At this point, we have just a little more than one year of data.

“Having information about types and volumes of oil moving through the state enhances oil transportation safety and can help communities better prepare for incidents that may occur from transport by rail and pipeline.”

Those numbers could rise if the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal is built at the Port of Vancouver. That facility could be capable of handling an average of 360,000 barrels per day, carried by an average of four oil trains per day. But the project faces an uncertain future.

In November, the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council recommended that Gov. Jay Inslee deny the project’s construction. Earlier this month, the Port of Vancouver made March 31 the final date for the proposed terminal to have all its necessary permits and approvals in place or else the lease will be canceled.

Inslee is expected to make his recommendation on the project within a month.

With the passing of the Oil Transportation Safety Act in 2015, lawmakers required greater transparency around the relatively recent surge in oil movements into and around the state. Now, facilities that receive crude oil by rail must submit advanced notice and information for all scheduled crude-by-rail oil transfers.

Pipeline operators must give biannual notice.

Crude-by-rail facilities must submit reports on a weekly basis, describing where the oil is from, the route taken to the facility, schedule time and volume in barrels of the delivery, and the gravity of the oil.

Ecology then aggregates the information from the different facilities and creates a quarterly report. Ecology then shares the information with emergency responders, local governments, tribes and the public.

The agency says that by capturing the details of crude oil movements, they have to opportunity to plan, place resources and provide local responders detailed information if a spill were to happen.

“For example, it can help them plan response strategies, equipment selection, and staffing levels,” Howard said. “Broadly, the information helps to protect the lives of people living and working near railroads and pipelines, the economy, and environmental resources of Washington state.”

Before the law’s implementation, the only information available to the state or the public came via the federal Bakken Emergency Order, which applied only to unit trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude.

Columbian staff writer