Farm Bureau posts Wenatchee Washington opinion: No Oil Trains Here

Repost from The Farm Bureau’s FBACT Insider (The Unified National Voice of Agriculture)
[Editor: I was heartened to learn that the Farm Bureau has a progressive agenda on energy.  See  – RS]

OPINION: Move along, no oil trains here

June 27, 2014 – The Wenatchee World

June 26–Peak oil? Not yet. Like it or not, the United States now is among the world’s leading oil producers, pumping around 9 million barrels a day and rising. That’s not far behind Saudi Arabia, and makes a lot of sheikdoms look puny. And like it or not, this compressed energy will be burned to turn the economic wheels of the world. To get from producer to customer, however, it has to go somewhere.

Just not here.

The information reluctantly released Tuesday shows that in the absence of pipelines the railways of the northern tier have become, not exactly pipelines on wheels, but getting closer. Information on oil shipments by rail was provided to states and emergency responders by order of the Department of Transportation earlier this month, with the expectation that it be kept confidential for security reasons. Then DOT ruled there really weren’t any security reasons, and so the train data hit the wires on Tuesday.

The report from BNSF detailed one week of shipments late in May of light crude from the Bakken field of North Dakota. It showed not what rail lines were used, but where trains traveled by county. These are loaded trains of at least 1 million gallons of crude, but often around 3 million gallons. Around 18 such trains a week enter Washington, mostly through Spokane, and apparently traveling south through the Tri-Cities and down the Columbia Gorge. Some then make their way north.

Spokane County saw 16 trains for the week; Lincoln, 17; Adams, Benton, Franklin, Skamania and Clark, 18; Pierce, 15; King, 11; Snohomish, 10; Skagit, 9; Whatcom, 5. Kittitas, Grant, Douglas and Chelan — 0.

So as expected, no heavy oil trains make the heights of Stevens Pass, although we have seen empties headed east.

The mounting news makes it look likely that we will see more and more tank cars passing through. Just this week is was announced that the Commerce Department had agreed to allow two Texas companies to export small amounts of lightly refined oil, possibly creating a tiny fracture in the 40-year-old ban on U.S. oil exports. The Obama administration and experts were quick to downplay this, saying it didn’t constitute an end to the embargo, which would require congressional approval. But it was a big enough crack in the door to raise Texas crude prices and drop oil stocks.

No one still alive can recall exactly why the United States forbid its oil to be exported, except that the people in government are always excessively paranoid about gasoline prices rising for reasons other than increased taxation. Also, at its peak the United States imported 60 percent of its oil needs. Now that’s down near 40 percent. The experts say a full-fledged end to the export embargo would raise crude prices at home, and make world markets less volatile. All that just increases the incentive to hunt, drill, frack and pump.

Exports are, almost always, good for a nation’s economy, and so oil transport will have a future on the West Coast. We will see. Remember that rail shipments of oil in Washington were zero as recently as 2011. The state estimates they hit 17 million barrels in 2013, and some say that could triple.

Remember, it will be burned. Some 25 years ago, the International Energy Agency estimated that fossil fuels provided 82 percent of the world’s energy consumption. After decades and billions invested in renewable energy, the IEA announced in February, that of all the world’s energy consumption, fossil fuels provide … 82 percent.