Repost from The Camas-Washougal Post-Record [Editor: This article begins with a narrow focus (a letter from the Mayor of Camas), but then expands to detail a growing consensus among local and regional elected officials in the Northwest. – RS]
Mayor’s letter focuses on oil train concerns
Document was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee
March 24, 2015 2:36 p.m.
The City of Camas recently mailed a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, raising concerns about oil train safety and supporting efforts to improve emergency preparedness efforts.
The letter signed by Mayor Scott Higgins was sent last week.
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies are proposing to build an oil-transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver. It would be capable of handling 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
“A major east-west railroad corridor passes through Camas adjacent to our downtown, residential areas, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill and the Columbia River and its tributaries,” Higgins’ letter states. “The number of crude oil railroad cars passing through our city continues to increase and if there is a terminal located in Vancouver, Washington, the numbers would significantly increase.”
According to Higgins, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department is not equipped to handle the type of train derailments and explosions that have happened in the rural areas of Illinois and West Virginia.
“If a similar event occurred in Camas or a comparable location, we risk significant loss of life and property damage,” he wrote. “We as a region need to be prepared and have the resources to respond to this type of event.”
He called for the railroad to be required to have enough liability insurance to cover all costs, should a similar major accident occur locally.
Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Anderson said he supports the content of the letter, adding that it should also be sent to the state’s senators and representatives.
“I recognize it’s out of our scope to directly influence, but putting a voice out there helps,” he said.
In February, the Washougal City Council passed a resolution expressing concerns about how the location of an oil terminal in Vancouver could cause safety and traffic issues. It was delivered to Inslee and the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council, as well as local congressional representatives, state legislators and federal and state agencies.
Several local leaders are part of a coalition of elected officials across the Northwest, called the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. Its mission is to understand and raise awareness of the safety and economic impacts of coal and oil trains. [See also Facebook.]
Camas City Councilman Don Chaney and Washougal City Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay, as well as a handful of Vancouver city councilors, are listed as members of the group. It includes more than 150 people from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia in Canada.
Meanwhile, a forum is being planned that will focus on the oil industry’s potential impacts on Southwest Washington.
The event, which will be moderated by Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute, will be held Wednesday, April 1, at 6 p.m., at Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., in Vancouver. Doors open at 5:30.
Forum panelists will include Lauren Goldberg, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper; Vancouver City Councilwoman Anne McEnerny-Ogle; Barry Cain of Gramor Development; Eric LaBrant of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association and a representative from Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Sponsors include the Sightline Institute, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Clark County Natural Resources Council.
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.
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.
Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting [Editor: Significant quote for us in California: “The trains originate in Alberta, moving through Idaho to Washington. From there, some are bound for refining in Western Washington and others travel along the Columbia River into Portland and south into California.” – RS]
Big Trainloads Of Tar Sands Crude Now Rolling Through NW
By Tony Schick, Feb. 9, 2015
Trains carrying mass loads of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sands have begun moving through the Northwest, creating the potential for an oil spill in parts of Oregon and Washington where environmental agencies have no response plans or equipment in place.
Union Pacific now moves between seven and 10 of these mile-long trains of Canadian crude per month through Northwest states, according to railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt. They can carry more than a million gallons of oil.
The trains originate in Alberta, moving through Idaho to Washington. From there, some are bound for refining in Western Washington and others travel along the Columbia River into Portland and south into California.
The seven to 10 monthly trains represents a big increase over Union Pacific trains that had previously been hauling mixed freight that included oil tank cars. The mile-long “unit trains” began in late November, according to the railroad, but spill planners at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and Washington’s Department of Ecology didn’t learn of the new shipments until late January and early February, respectively.
Both agencies, along with emergency responders and rail safety inspectors, were previously caught unprepared in 2013 when shipments of sweet light crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields started moving through the region.
Railroads are required to notify states about oil shipments larger than one million gallons under an emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation. The order was filed in response to national concerns about local fire departments being caught unaware or kept in the dark when these “rolling pipelines” were passing through their jurisdictions.
That order applies only to Bakken crude; shipments from Canada are exempt. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have called on the federal DOT to expand its regulation to include all shipments, with the aim of avoiding a situation like mile-long trains of tar sands crude moving without knowledge from the agencies tasked with oil spill cleanup.
“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,” Wyden said in a statement released to OPB/EarthFix. “This apparent lack of communication with state officials responsible for Oregonians’ health and safety is exactly why I have been pushing for an iron-clad rule to ensure first-responders in our communities are notified about these oil trains.”
Officials in Oregon and Washington said they lack the resources and authority for adequate spill planning along rail corridors. Rail lines touch more than a hundred watersheds in Oregon and cross more than a thousand water bodies in Washington.
Unlike plans for marine transports and storage facilities, plans for who responds, how and with what equipment are lacking in Oregon and Washington when it comes to rivers and lakes.
“We will respond, but our response won’t be as effective as it would be with the facilities where we’ve reviewed their plans, we know what they contain,” said Bruce Gilles, emergency response program manager at Oregon’s DEQ.
Should a train full of tar sand oil spill today, response teams will be “going in somewhat blind,” and that means they won’t be able to work as quickly as they should, Gilles said.
“You’re going to lose time, and that time translates into increased environmental damage and costs to clean up,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
David Byers, response manager for Washington’s Department of Ecology, said the state has begun filling the regional gaps where it lacks response plans, but the effort will take years.
Byers said tar sands crude presents many cleanup challenges the state’s never handled before.
Bitumen is a hydrocarbon extracted from Alberta’s tar sands. It’s too thick to be transported like conventional crude. It’s either refined into a synthetic crude — making it more like conventional crude oil — or combined with additives that give it a more liquid consistency.
A heavy tar-like substance, bitumen can sink when it hits water. It’s also stickier, meaning it’s tougher to remove from wherever it spills. That’s what happened when a pipeline burst and spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The cleanup cost exceeded $1 billion.
Frequent rain and fast-moving rivers in the Northwest mean a lot of sediment that oil can stick to, further complicating cleanup.
Byers and Gilles say they have no way of knowing what specific type of crude is in a given oil tanker car. Knowing that they’re dealing with a tar sand crude oil spill would dramatically influence their response.
“It’s much harder to clean up on the bottom of a river bed,” Byers said. “Or if it sinks in, for example, Puget Sound, it’s going to be more difficult to clean up, and even more challenging for us to even locate and detect where the oil has migrated to.”
It wouldn’t just be up to Oregon or Washington officials to handle spill-response duties if an oil train derailed in their state. Union Pacific has 30 hazardous materials responders across its 32,000 mile network and relies on private contractors for handling spill incidents.
“This team of experts directs training, preparation and response for any type of accident involving hazardous materials,” spokesman Aaron Hunt said in an email. “We move hazardous materials on behalf of our customers because it is our job.”
Repost from The Columbian, Vancouver, WA [Editor: Detailed background and history on successful opposition to crude by rail in Oregon and Washington state. – RS}
Portland port passes on oil-by-rail terminal
While Vancouver pursues project, other Northwest ports aren’t so sure
By Aaron Corvin, January 18, 2015
The nation’s public ports, focused on attracting industry and jobs, are largely known as agnostics when it comes to pursuing the commodities they handle.
It doesn’t matter if the shipments are toxic or nontoxic. Ports move cargoes, the story goes. They don’t pronounce moral judgments about them.
However, at least one line of business is no longer necessarily a lock, at least in the Northwest: the transportation of crude oil by rail.
Public concerns about everything from explosive oil-train derailments and crude spills to greenhouse gas emissions and the future of life on the planet are part of the reason why.
In at least two cases in Oregon and Washington, ports decided safety and environmental concerns loomed large enough for them to step back from oil transport. The Port of Portland, for example, eyed as much as $6 million in new annual revenue when it mulled siting an oil-train export terminal, documents obtained by The Columbian show. Ultimately, Oregon’s largest port scrapped the idea because of rail safety and other worries. At one point, it also reckoned that “the public does not readily differentiate between our direct contribution to climate change and actions we enable.”
In Washington, the Port of Olympia adopted a resolution raising multiple safety, environmental and economic concerns. It noted the July 6, 2013, fiery oil-train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people. And the resolution called on the Port of Grays Harbor to rethink opening its doors to three proposed oil-by-rail transfer terminals.
To be sure, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of Northwest ports swearing off oil or other energy projects. Yet public concerns aren’t lost on the port industry. Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, said he worries that putting certain commodities such as coal under “cradle-to-grave” environmental analyses sets a bad precedent that could gum up the quest for other port cargoes.
Nevertheless, he said, “we’re concerned about oil-by-rail transportation.” So much so, the association, which represents some 64 ports in Washington, will soon issue a position paper, Johnson said. It will include calls on the federal government to boost the safety of tank cars, and to upgrade oil-spill prevention and response measures. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said that assuring the safety of oil shipments by rail would be one of its top priorities for the year.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, critics pressure port commissioners to cancel a lease to build what would be the nation’s largest oil-by-rail transfer operation. Under the contract, Tesoro Corp., a petroleum refiner, and Savage Companies, a transportation company, want to build a terminal capable of receiving an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day.
In addition to the political pressure, legal challenges dog the project, too. One lawsuit goes to the heart of how ports relate to their constituencies: It accuses Vancouver port commissioners of using multiple closed-door meetings to illegally exclude people from their discussions of the lease proposal.
The port denies the allegations. It has repeatedly said public safety remains its top concern. And it has said the oil terminal won’t get built unless the companies’ proposal wins state-level safety and environmental approvals.
Yet opponents see increased public attention to the safety and environmental impacts of proposed oil and coal terminals as reason to believe ports can no longer easily don the robes of an agnostic. “People are paying attention,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, one of three environmental groups pressing legal complaints against the Port of Vancouver. “It’s no longer simply the bottom line and the most revenue.”
In the Northwest, the Port of Portland’s decision to temporarily back off oil transport sharply contrasts with the Port of Vancouver’s choice to pursue it. Oil terminal critics use Portland’s decision to hammer the Port of Vancouver.
“I don’t see how an oil terminal is unsafe on the Oregon side of the Columbia (River) and safe on the Washington side,” VandenHeuvel said. “The striking thing is how close in proximity the ports of Portland and Vancouver are and the different approach they’ve taken on oil.”
In an email to The Columbian, Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, said the port moves “forward on projects we think have merit and will bring benefit to the port and our community.” She also said the port understands that “every port needs to make decisions that make sense for them.”
‘Protests may occur’
Initially, an oil-train operation made sense to the Port of Portland, too.
It considered three sites: Terminals 4, 5 and 6. It analyzed the production of crude from the Bakken shale formation in the Midwest and from oil sands in Canada. It assessed business risks, including Kinder Morgan’s plan to repurpose an existing natural gas pipeline to connect West Texas crude to Southern California. And it contemplated the “primary specific concern among governments and community groups” over the potential for “oil spills, whether from unit trains, pipelines from the unit trains to the storage tanks to the dock, and barges.”
In May 2013 — about a month after Tesoro and Savage announced their oil terminal proposal in Vancouver — the Port of Portland signed a nondisclosure agreement with an unspecified company (the port redacted its identity in documents) to explore locating an oil export facility near Terminal 6.
Just shy of a year later, however, the port backed away.
In March 2014, it publicly announced that while it was “interested in being part of an American energy renaissance brought on by this remarkable domestic oil transformation” it did not “believe that we have sufficient answers to the important questions regarding environmental and physical safety to proceed with any type of development at this time.”
In an email to The Columbian, Kama Simonds, a spokeswoman for the Port of Portland, said “rail car safety was the primary issue” that led the port to temporarily halt its pursuit of an oil-train terminal.
But the port also worried about damaging “our hard-won positive environmental reputation,” documents show, and noted “other relationships will be affected,” including “other governments, neighborhood associations and civic groups …”
“National environmental groups will be involved — Sierra Club, Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Greenpeace,” it also noted. “Protests may occur.”
And the Port of Portland was aware of the controversy that engulfed its neighbor, remarking that “as seen with the Tesoro project at the Port of Vancouver and other energy-related projects at several other ports on the river system and along the coastline, these kinds of announcements can quickly create opposition, controversy and protests.”
Unlike the Port of Vancouver, whose three commissioners are elected by Clark County voters, the Port of Portland’s nine commissioners are appointed by Oregon’s governor and ratified by the state Senate.
The Port of Portland’s Simonds said Gov. John Kitzhaber wasn’t kept informed of the port’s initial pursuit of an oil-by-rail facility and that “we are not aware of any formal statement issued to the port from the governor’s office.”
Nowadays, she said, the port pursues “other energy-related projects” and focuses on Canadian company Pembina Pipeline’s plan to build a propane export facility near Terminal 6. Propane would be brought to the facility by train and eventually shipped overseas. The propane terminal would use the same property that the Port of Portland had considered for an oil-by-rail transfer operation. That project is also expected to face opposition from environmental groups.
Josh Thomas, a spokesman for the Port of Portland, said the port is “extremely discerning” when thinking about energy-sector opportunities. After rejecting coal and temporarily halting oil, he said, the port is now working with Pembina. “Propane has an excellent track record as a clean and safe alternative fuel,” Thomas said, “with a good climate story, displacing many dirtier traditional fuels.”
‘We are not alone’
If the Port of Portland only temporarily dropped the idea of an oil-train venture, the Port of Olympia in Washington went further.
In August 2014, the Olympia port commission voted 2-1 to approve a resolution expressing “deep concern” about the threat to “life, safety, the environment and economic development” of hauling Bakken crude by train “through our county.”
The resolution urged the Port of Grays Harbor — some 50 miles west of the Port of Olympia — to reconsider allowing three proposed oil-transfer terminals. It also called on the city of Hoquiam to reject construction permits for the projects.
The Olympia port’s resolution didn’t sit well with the executive committee of the Washington Public Ports Association. The committee shot a letter — signed by five port commissioners, including Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver — to Port of Olympia Commissioner George Barner. The letter chastised the resolution as meddling in another port’s lawful business. “We can only presume that if another port were to do this to the Port of Olympia that you would be rightly, and deeply, offended,” according to the letter, signed by Oliver, Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro, Port of Benton Commissioner Roy Keck, Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland and Port of Chelan County Commissioner JC Baldwin.
Barner and his colleague, Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn, who cast the other “yes” vote for the resolution, returned fire with a letter of their own. “As public officials, we have a responsibility to protect our citizenry and our natural resources,” they wrote in their letter addressed to Albro. “We are not alone in our concern over the passage of crude oil by rail through our community, as no less than sixteen other jurisdictions have passed similar resolutions, including the cities of Anacortes, Aberdeen, Auburn, Bellingham, Chehalis, Edmonds, Hoquiam, Kent, Mukilteo, Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, and Westport; King and Whatcom Counties, and the Columbia River Gorge Commission.”
The jousting letters illustrate that not all ports think alike when it comes to how they do business.
Although the Port of Portland didn’t join the Port of Vancouver in seeking a share of the vast quantity of crude coming onto the nation’s rails, there appears to be no acrimony between them.
Shortly before the Port of Portland said last March that it wasn’t going after an oil-by-rail project, it gave the Port of Vancouver a heads-up about it.
“We wanted to make sure you had visibility to it prior to its release as the port is effectively making and taking a public position on crude-by-rail,” Sam Ruda, chief commercial officer for the Port of Portland, wrote in an email to Port of Vancouver CEO Todd Coleman and Chief Marketing/Sales Officer Alastair Smith.
Ruda offered to discuss the matter with them.
“I am doing this on behalf of Bill Wyatt (the Port of Portland’s executive director) who is traveling in Vietnam,” Ruda wrote in his Feb. 28, 2014 email. “At the same time, I have been very involved in this matter and am prepared to offer you perspectives and context as to why we are doing this at this time.”
Russell, the spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, said Coleman and Smith thanked Ruda for the heads-up when they later spoke with him. “These types of courtesy communications are common,” she said. “There was no additional discussion related to the statement.”