Repost from The Daily Astorian, Columbia Pacific Region
Editorial: Tar sand expenses must stick on those who profit
Up to 10 mile-long tar sands trains per month are now moving between Canada and destinations on Puget Sound, Portland and California.February 12, 2015, The Daily Astorian
Compared to ordinary unrefined petroleum, crude oil originating in the vast tar sand deposits of Alberta, Canada and nearby areas of the U.S. is distinctly more challenging to clean up if it spills.
There is surprising news this week that a great deal of it is moving along the Columbia River and elsewhere in Washington and Oregon — without any spill-response plan in place among state environmental agencies.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Tony Schick did a good job illuminating tar sands issues in a story Monday. Due to a gap in the law that required communications between shippers and agencies for U.S. tar sands but not the same material from Canada, regional train traffic has rapidly expanded just since late November 2014. Up to 10 mile-long tar sands trains per month are now moving between Canada and destinations on Puget Sound, Wash., Portland and California.
There are “good news” components in this. Petroleum processed from tar sands is a large part of why gasoline prices have gone down, as North America again becomes a net exporter of energy. This surge in domestic production, transportation and shipping of crude oil generates profits, jobs and taxes.
But it is nevertheless surprising to learn that vast quantities of a distinctly hazardous substance are being transported around the Pacific Northwest without anything like an appropriate level of preparation for spills — disasters that are virtually inevitable.
Plain old crude oil and petroleum are bad enough from the perspective of spills. In the latest of in a series of excellent stories, Sightline Daily notes that U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River already responds to about 275 oil pollution incidents a year. But pending plans for additional fossil fuel shipments could triple the number of tankers crossing the Columbia bar and double major vessel traffic on the river as a whole.
A good deal of this traffic would involve tar sands crude, which OPB describes as much worse to clean up. Canadian tar sands produce bitumen, a heavy tar-like material that is sticky and heavier than water. Because it sinks and adheres to everything it touches, cleanups are time consuming and expensive — more than $1 billion in the case of a burst bitumen pipeline in Michigan.
All this has caught U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s attention. “It is unacceptable that volatile tar sands oil has been moving through our communities for months, and yet Oregon officials only found out about it last week,” he told OPB. He is working on a strong rule that would ensure that local and state emergency responders are kept in the loop about tar sands shipments.
Beyond this, it is vital that the expense of insuring against spills and making things right afterward are fully absorbed by those profiting from tar sands exploitation. Northwest citizens must be guaranteed that we won’t get stuck holding an empty bag when a tanker wrecks on the bar or an oil train derails in some formerly pristine location.
The oil industry is rife with examples of leaving messes behind for others to deal with. This time, things absolutely must be different. Those who profit must shoulder all the financial risk.